While divorce numbers are shrinking among younger couples, the opposite is true for boomers. Grey divorce is on the rise. Take the case of Jane and Roger. They married in their late twenties. By their late thirties they’d built a tidy family of four, a boy and a girl, four years apart. Both worked although Jane took off eight years to raise the kids. By the time the couple reached their sixties, the children were on their own, leaving Jane and Roger with nothing much to talk about and fewer shared interests.
As the psychologists say, Jane and Roger didn’t bother to grow together as a couple. The children were the focus of their life and when they departed any remaining spark in the marriage burned out. Roger suggested that Jane take up golf, his main passion, but Jane wasn’t interested. She preferred yoga classes. Jane suggested they travel, but Roger said he preferred to sleep in his own bed. They travelled together in the 1970s when they were young, and Roger believed he’d seen as much as the world as he wanted to way back then.
By 65, the couple wasn’t even taking their meals together. Jane complained to her friends about the emptiness of her marriage while Roger bottled up his resentment. They avoided counseling for years, until their relationship felt too damaged to repair.
Finally Jane filed for divorce. As Burlington, Ontario family lawyer Maryam Manteghi says after practicing law for fifteen years, “women give up on a marriage when they just can’t put up with their partner for another minute. Not so with men. They usually have someone else.”
Her advice for older adults who are contemplating separation and divorce is “to take control of the dispute. Don’t allow your lawyer to convince you that you should fight harder, or try to get more. If you’re happy with the settlement,” Manteghi says, “you’re the best one to know.”
“Make sure your lawyer isn’t taking advantage of the situation especially when you are older and there are multiple assets and pensions in play,” she adds. According to Manteghi, parties often come to a very fair agreement on their own, so it’s crucial that you hire a lawyer with integrity and not one who convinces you to fight hard. Mediation is also a possibility with many couples opting for a less adversarial approach to divorce.
“Go with your gut,” Manteghi asserts. After working through many divorce cases, she’s acutely aware that the adversarial process is very draining, emotionally and psychologically as well as financially.
“It’s not worth going crazy to be right,” she says while always reminding her clients that the person on the other side is often the parent of your children.
Provincial Family Law is clear about spousal support for those who stayed home to raise the children and haven’t worked outside the home for more than 15 years, but each case is unique. Considering that it was mainly women who did this, it is recognized by the courts that women should not be punished for their years at home raising a family.
For a woman contemplating a grey divorce, Manteghi believes it is crucial to figure out, before moving forward, how much she will need. Incomes go down after retirement and that needs to be taken into account. “Make sure she knows the mortgage payments, the family assets in each and every account. Be smart; don’t bury your head in the sand.”
Remember, if one party gets the house, they are expected to maintain the property on their own and it’s necessary to figure out how important it is for her to remain in the family home and how much it will take to maintain it.
All this can appear to be pretty grim and Manteghi admits that often she sends people home who would happily give her a $5000 retainer. “But I say, go home and fix your family. Make certain you are divorcing for the right reasons and make your decision from a position of strength, not weakness.”
I get where Maryam is coming from. She sees families or couples who could rebuild their marriage or as she calls it “renovate their relationship.” In fact, she’s working on a book right now called Fix Your Family: Save the World. “You can’t legislate equality in the family as you can in the workplace, but you can make progress, if you’re prepared to try.”
Where does that leave Jane and Roger? I’d like to say they could go back and fix their marriage, but there comes a point where spending another 20 or 30 years with someone you don’t particularly like —or worse– is probably not the best way to spend the fall and winter of your life.
Grey divorce is growing because couples have more options now they ever before. If both parties built a career in their younger years, both could emerge from a broken marriage with equal resources and assets. If one party decides to remain in the family home and claim a lump sum payment, that’s a huge and possibly growing asset and can be maintained by taking out a reverse mortgage or home owners line of credit (HELOC) for monthly payments.
Before you act, get all the facts, write them down, keep a detailed record, discuss it with a lawyer of integrity and always, as Manteghi remarks “go with your gut and work from a position of strength not weakness.”