Understanding the Gray Divorce Phenomenon in Maine

Understanding the Gray Divorce Phenomenon in Maine

Despite popular belief, divorce rates in the United States have been slowly declining since the 1980s, though it remains one of the highest in the world.

The declining trend is bucked, however, in the case of couples aged over 50. Divorce rates among these couples have doubled since the 1990s. This trend is even more extreme in the case of couples aged over 65, where the rate almost tripled between 1990 and 2019.

The surge of later-life divorces has created something of a “gray divorce phenomenon”. This has happened for multiple reasons and leads to older couples facing some unique issues, with a lasting impact on their financial situation, standard of living, and family relationships.

If you’re considering divorce after being together with your spouse for many years, here’s what you need to know and how you should prepare for the major outcomes.

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What is a gray divorce?

A “gray divorce” is a later-life divorce. The phrase comes from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which defines this type of divorce as involving individuals aged 50 years or older.

According to the U.S. Census Department, almost 35 percent of divorces now involve couples aged 55 years or older.

So, why is this happening more now than in the past?

Reasons for the increase in gray divorces in Maine

The question of why gray divorces in Maine are far more common than in the past comes down to several main factors:

Everyone (including married couples) is living longer

Americans from all walks of life are living longer, attributed to in part due to advances in healthcare since the 1980s. The average life expectancy is now nearing 80 years — almost 10 years longer than it was in the 1960s.

This means that married couples are living together for longer, creating an increased potential to get divorced later in life as couples consider how many years of life they have remaining,

Many couples stay together for the kids

Once the children have grown up and “fled the nest,” many couples decide to separate after having remained together for the benefit of the kids.

With the kids gone, there is no longer a compelling reason to spend the rest of their lives together. Sometimes, it’s a prearranged decision to split. Other times, however, couples change their minds and decide to stay married.

A reduced social stigma about divorce

Shifting cultural values and the reduced influence of religion are two reasons for a decline in the stigma attached to divorce in modern times. The “sanctity” of marriage and the notion of family has changed since the 1970s, and the growing independence of women has also contributed to the trend.

Previously, with later-life divorce highly stigmatized by society, these types of divorces were relatively rare. As the stigma has lifted, more couples aged over 50 feel more confident about divorcing and living an independent life.

Nowadays, family situations like cohabitation, single parenthood, and stay-at-home dads are also far more common because of changing cultural values.

Remarriages have high divorce rates

The divorce rate is higher for remarried couples than first-time marriages, a statistic that also contributes to the gray divorce phenomenon in Maine and the rest of the U.S.

Over 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce, while the number for third marriages is even higher, at 70 percent. These numbers indicate that the likelihood of remarriages in later life ending in divorce is even higher than first marriages.

How to prepare for a gray divorce in Maine

Gray divorces present some extra challenges for a separating couple compared with younger couples—and you’ll need to prepare for these challenges accordingly. The main challenges usually arise in the following areas:

  • Property and debt division: Because older couples usually live together for longer, they accumulate more assets, such as real estate, investments, personal property, and pensions, as well as debts in some cases. This often leads to more complex issues during the division of the marital estate. It’s best to prepare for this by getting familiar with the equitable distribution laws in Maine.
  • Retirement benefits and pension division: For older couples, the retirement benefits often form a large part of the marital estate and their division contributes greatly to each partner’s future financial security. Prepare for this by understanding the relevant rules and regulations about the division of these assets in Maine.
  • Healthcare: As couples grow older, healthcare is a major factor in decision-making, with health insurance becoming increasingly necessary and increasingly expensive. One spouse is often covered by the other spouse’s insurance while they’re married, but this changes if they divorce, creating a potentially major financial issue for the spouse without insurance. Sometimes, this important element of a gray divorce is not fully appreciated in settlements. A seasoned divorce lawyer will help you factor it in.
  • Spousal support (alimony): Whether spousal support is awarded depends heavily on the respective incomes and earning abilities of each spouse. Generally speaking, the longer the marriage, the longer the period of alimony payments. In very long marriages, where one partner has not worked for a long time, spousal support may be indefinite.
  • Family relationships: Child custody and child matters are usually less of an issue in gray divorces but relationships with adult children and grandchildren may be greatly affected by the separation. This can be difficult to prepare for emotionally and it also presents logistical challenges for many.

With all of the potentially complex issues facing older divorcees, it is essential to seek legal assistance and guidance from an attorney experienced in gray divorces. With long relationships, the need for support and sensitivity to the unique financial and emotional demands of a marriage breakdown is often key.

If you need legal assistance during a separation or divorce in Maine, speak to an experienced family law attorney at The Maine Divorce Group during an initial consultation.

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Call 207-230-6884 or contact us online to schedule a consult with one of our highly skilled family law attorneys today.

We serve many clients, just like you, across Maine in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, & Lincoln Counties.


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Divorce is a highly emotional and stressful experience for most people. But you don’t have to face this challenge alone. Having a strong divorce attorney in your corner can help ensure that you and your children walk away from this process with the best opportunities available for future success and happiness.