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Is divorce after 50 all that different?

Being middle-aged has its advantages. Whether it's your first or second marriage, you know the telltale signs that your happiest days as a couple are behind you-and not coming back anytime soon. Maybe there's been an affair, or you've had money or avoidance issues. Maybe you just can't stop arguing over every little (and big) thing. It's a very difficult decision to come to, but you're ready to move on.

It's not surprising. More married couples over the age of 50 are getting divorced these days-by some counts, the rate has more than doubled since 1990. If it's something you're considering, you should do a little homework and avoid any unpleasant surprises. While so-called "gray divorce" shares many characteristics with other types of divorce, it also has unique challenges you need to be aware of.

  • Being at this stage of life means you have more assets to split up. You have retirement savings, pensions, Social Security and other funds-even Health Savings Accounts-that will go into the pool you'll split. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but you should think things through and be realistic about how much money you'll need to maintain your current lifestyle. If everything's cut in half, what does that leave you with?
  • If you want to stay in the house you've shared, be prepared to trade something else away. You might get smaller alimony payments or have to give up an IRA account to make things even. Think about your feelings toward the house: are the added expenses you'll take on worth it? What about giving up retirement income-are you close to retiring, if you're not already? How much longer will you work?
  • Try to stay on good terms with your spouse during the process-if you can't get along, think of it as a business relationship. Be polite, be civil. Don't get personal. Don't say everything that's on your mind.
  • By all means, make plans for your new life as a single person, but don't start acting on them yet. If there's someone you're interested in dating (or vice versa), let them know you need to wait until your divorce is finalized. If you don't, you'll complicate things and risk your settlement amount. Try to be patient with the process.

While divorces later in life are on the rise, that doesn't mean they're all alike. No two divorces are the same. If you have a friend who's also going through the process, support each other emotionally but don't expect the same outcome or rely on their advice. Guidance from an experienced family law attorney will be much more helpful!