What happens when long-term marriages head to the divorce court? It's not pretty for either party.
It has become noticeable that Baby Boomers and even older people are starting to experience a significant number of divorces. Couples married for 20 to 40 years are getting divorced. A long-term marriage does not automatically guarantee that it won't end in divorce. Part of the cause may be a greater life span for people. Maybe it used to be that divorce didn't come up for older couples because one or both partners died before they got too old.
Now, "gray divorce" is an event that more older people experience, even though most never thought it would come to that. Consequently, they are unprepared for what is happening. If you find yourself in that situation, consider the following actions to help you begin to think about how to respond.
1. The first thing you need to do is hire an attorney. After a long marriage, and given the health and other issues that can arise at an older age, you have a lot at stake. You should not, even if you are a lawyer, try to represent yourself. Even if you don't want the divorce, you need to be protected and assisted. Don't try to do it on your own. There are many complicated issues you will face and they will determine much of your future. Hire an experienced attorney, one you are comfortable with and one who is a good listener.
2. Consider using Collaborative Law. After a long marriage, there can be a myriad of issues to resolve, from dealing with teen-age or adult children, starting over with a career, health insurance, retirement assets, what to do with the house, how to provide support to get a spouse on her or his feet, health issues and many other concerns. Collaborative Law has the potential to allow the parties to come up with creative, unique settlement ideas that directly address their concerns. Here in Tarrant County, we use a neutral financial professional to help with financial planning, budgeting and other issues, and we use a neutral therapist to help the parties figure out the best ways to resolve children- and family-issues. You really don't need a cookie-cutter approach on the terms of divorce. You need something to respond to your specific needs. You should talk to a trained Collaborative attorney to see if Collaborative would benefit you.
3. You need to financially plan for at least two stages: interim and retirement. Depending on your ages, you and your spouse may have anywhere from a few to many years before retirement. Either way, you will need to consider how both parties will get by financially on an immediate basis and then to retirement. It is very common for one party to have been a stay-at-home parent who remained out of the workforce for years. That spouse will need help figuring out a career and getting started. Afterwards, the retirement assets will need to be divided between the parties. There's obviously a lot of financial planning to be done and Collaborative Law offers the best set-up to meet that need.
4. You should consider the effects of the divorce on all the family members. After a long-term marriage, it will be hard on everyone, but especially the children. Using the neutral therapist in a Collaborative context allows you expert help with the family issues. Children can really be hurt by divorce, even if they are adults. You should carefully plan out how to address the divorce before you start telling your children and other people.
5. Each party should work with a counselor or life coach. Any divorce can be difficult, but one after a long-term marriage can lead to a much more difficult transition. Professional help is really warranted. Don't try to do it on your own.
Hopefully, these points will give you some ideas on what to expect and some things you can do if you find yourself facing divorce after a long-term marriage. This post is mainly to identify some issues and to get your started. Be sure to get good professional help. Good luck!