Divorce looks different at age 50 and up. How do you navigate the financials?

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A hand with a marriage ring. Credit: Pixabay.

We often hear that 50% of marriages end in divorce, but recent reports show the overall divorce rate is down. This may have something to do with millennials marrying later and staying married, or not marrying at all.

Meanwhile, there’s a rise of so-called grey divorces, which involve couples age 50 and older. Several factors could be at play, including financial troubles, infidelity, and longer life spans.

Actress and writer Annabelle Gurwitch separated from husband after raising their child. She tells Press Play that her relationship represents a different kind of grey divorce. They’re living separate lives, but aren’t actually divorced because they can’t afford it, and they need the health insurance. “I have my union health plan. When we considered getting divorced, it was going to be so expensive for both of us,” Gurwitch says.

For that health plan to also cover their 21-year-old son, Gurwitch and her husband can’t be divorced. Their son studies electronic music, and they expect him to come home after college.

For two years, Gurwitch lived in the bedroom while her husband lived in what they called “the punishment room” (guest bedroom). He had returned to college and couldn’t afford his own home.

So what were their separate lives in the same house like? Well when it came to dating, they observed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. She also un-friended him on Facebook.

Gurwitch says it’s a luxury for the rich to be able to fight with their ex. “I don't have that luxury. Just any time you involve attorneys, I don't want to be giving them that money. One of the things you don't think about when you're splitting up when you're younger is all the earning years ahead of you. I went to see my accountant, and he said, ‘Well after this split, you won't be destitute.’ ”

Gurwitch admits that one thing she didn't expect about the split was the feeling of disappointing people. “When you're married for more than 20 years, a lot of your friends and family, and even people in your outer circles, have a lot invested in your being together. …Besides my own emotional feelings of loss of continuity, I did feel like a failure in a way, and I had to really come up with a narrative that I felt comfortable about discussing in public.”

Right now, Gurwitch is renting out her guest bedroom. Her husband moved out. She’s also working on a book about her grey divorce experience and being an empty nester.

Other financial challenges of late divorce

Renting out a room in your house -- if you have that available -- is one way of dealing with the financial burden of divorce. But there are other issues, such as splitting the retirement.

Emily Pollock, a partner in the matrimonial and family law department at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP in New York, tells Press Play that retirement divisions depend on marriage length. “In New York, for example, you do an analysis to see what the contributions were during the marriage. And you apply whatever is the appropriate percentage to the non-title owner spouse. So if it's a long marriage, it's going to be 50 percent.”

If you had a shorter marriage and less money accrued in your retirement account during that time, Pollock explains that you’d do an analysis to see how much of the current balance is due to principle and appreciation from those funds, then do the division. The division is tough though, and you should do it with an expert because there are tax consequences, she explains.  

Pollock says another thing people don’t think about is how much they want to contribute to their young adult children’s lives. “Are you going to be paying for wedding? Are you going to be helping with a down payment on a house? Are you going to be paying for grad school? None of that is stuff that a court is going to make somebody pay for… Those are the kinds of things that couples choose to pay for together. But if you get divorced, you may find yourself -- if you're not the one who has the income stream -- kind of dependent on the beneficence of your spouse.”

It’s important to discuss co-financial obligations even after you’re divorced, she notes.

Pollock’s other advice for people considering divorce: Talk to a good lawyer, and understand what your future finances look like, such as where your income comes from, what kind of income supports your life (from earnings and/or investments), and what assets you have and where they’re held.

--Written by Amy Ta. Produced by Rebecca Mooney, Yael Even Or, and Sarah Sweeney.

Credits

Guests:
Annabelle Gurwitch - New York Times best-selling author, Emily Pollock - Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP; contributor to Forbes

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Yael Even Or, Alexandra Sif Tryggvadottir, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Rebecca Mooney, Adriana Cargill