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Gray Divorce: Unique Challenges and Considerations for Older Couples

A gray divorce means the couples involved in the divorce are over the age of 50. An AARP study made this term popular in 2004, but these divorces are also called “empty-nest divorces” and “silver splitters.” A gray divorce presents unique financial, legal, and emotional challenges, at least when compared to the dissolution of marriage among younger couples.

Prevalence and Trends

Interestingly, the divorce rate for younger people has gone down since 1990, but things have been different for older couples, as the rate has doubled for those over 55. Even though divorce lawyers have always discussed the complications involved in gray divorces, the number of cases continues to rise.


A study has shown that about 7.7% of marriages in the US go past the 50-year mark, and more than 36% of people over the age of 50 seek divorce. And the interesting thing is that “The Gray Divorce” syndrome is not limited to the US; it’s easy to find similar cases in Japan, Canada, Australia, and India.

What Are the Challenges of a Gray Divorce?

For those in their 50s, untangling married life can be a complicated business. No two divorces are the same, just like marriages. However, here are some of the most common challenges.

Determining Alimony

This can be problematic for retirees but typically, alimony is granted after long marriages and paid by the higher earner. This can include provision for any dependents, including adult children. Unlike in young divorces, alimony tends to continue for a prolonged period.

Dividing Marital Property and Retirement Accounts

Dividing assets accumulated over many years is time-consuming, stressful, and complicated. In case of a home, especially that is mortgaged, it’s important to determine how it will be paid for and maintained on a single income.


It’s worth mentioning that many people have substantial savings by retirement. In fact, a retirement account is often the marriage’s most valuable asset. However, the Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDRO) require that retirement accounts like a 401K or pension be split without penalty. That’s when only an expert can handle the legal matters.

Splitting Inheritance

Inheritances come under different regulations, including the Equitable Distribution Law. It’s important to understand that an inheritance belongs to the spouse who inherited it. It is not an asset to divide, except when an inherited property becomes the habitual marital home in long marriages.

Determining Social Security

One of many challenges people face with gray divorces is related to social security benefits. Many older individuals rely directly on social security benefits. It’s important to establish how they could be impacted in case of a divorce.


Divorce at any age is rarely straightforward and easy. For people over 50, it is often a life-altering event. It can throw years of prudent financial planning out of the window. Therefore , it makes sense for both partners to seek legal advice. You need to know your rights to understand their options, and to avoid making a mistake, it’s better to have a competent divorce lawyer by your side.