Why Are Older Couples Divorcing?

Marriage counselors and psychologists opine that an increasing number of older couples are divorcing because:

Why Are Older Couples Divorcing?
  1. Some older spouses may prioritize personal fulfillment over staying married
  2. Attitudes towards marriage have changed
  3. Life expectancy has increased
  4. Financial mismanagement can motivate a spouse to initiate a divorce
  5. Some spouses give priority to their habits and ignore family needs

According to the data published by the U.S. Census Bureau, 43% of spouses between the ages of 55 and 64 years and 39% of spouses between the ages of 65 and 74 were divorced. That is a very high divorce rate for people aged 55 and above. Some of the reasons for the increased divorce rate are:

Prioritizing Personal Fulfillment

Older people who have grown apart from each other over time, have not much in common, have been in an unhappy marriage, have sacrificed their desires for the family, or those who feel isolated when their home turns into an empty nest, can suddenly snap, forget their sacred vows, and petition for divorce. This may especially be true for spouses with adequate resources.

Such spouses may decide at this stage of their life to finally put an end to their lifelong suffering and emotional pain and experience a feeling of liberation once again. They would rather look forward to having a good and meaningful remaining life than hang around in a relationship they have always been dissatisfied with.

Changed Attitudes towards Marriage

A divorce doesn’t raise eyebrows or trigger a vicious cycle of gossip the way it used to, many years ago. It is regarded as a normal and acceptable event in American society these days. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 34% of women and 33% of men aged 20+ were found to be divorced, a percentage that confirms that divorce is, by and large, not looked down upon by society. These data embolden older people in an unhappy situation to petition for a divorce. Tragically, the normalization of divorce may embolden even people who are having an extramarital affair to ditch their partner.

Increased Life Expectancy and Divorce

Healthcare (physical and psychological) is getting better by the day and the average life expectancy of an American is 79 years (as of 2022). Thus, even spouses who are aged above 55 know that they still have a couple of decades of life to live. So, in the quest for happiness and personal fulfillment, older people in an unhappy marriage may not feel hesitant to petition for divorce.

Financial Mismanagement and Divorce

As of spring 2021, American households owed $14.6 trillion in debt. Households with spouses between the ages of 56 and 74 owed $97,290 on an average, while households with spouses above 75 owed $41,281. Researchers opine that financial disputes are one of the primary reasons for divorce in spouses over 55 years of age.

Many people are not good at financial management, and if one spouse is handling the money in a marriage and not doing a good job of it, then the couple can wrestle with debt and fight about finances, which could lead to divorce.

There is another perspective – when one spouse controls all the finances, then he may overspend or hold back funds from the other spouse. That also could lead to divorce.

Prioritizing Habits over Family Needs

A spouse who is bored with his marriage or is looking for some excitement in life may start an extramarital affair. There are plenty of online and offline enablers of such affairs – social media, the workplace, dating sites, and common interest groups, among other distractions. The spouse can also be unfaithful by developing an addiction to alcohol, gambling, pornography, or drugs, and decide to prioritize his/her habits over what the family needs. Such activities can lead to a divorce.

A divorced older spouse may find it challenging to adapt to a new environment – after all, he/she has invested many years in the marriage and has gotten used to his/her spouse. Their children may be forced to take sides and they may find it difficult to adjust to a divided family and new partners. The division of assets and debt also can have a profound impact because the divorcing spouses are splitting everything they have built together over many years. Then, retirement benefits and insurance too have to be split and that is another headache. When older spouses divorce, the event can be more painful and more complicated than it would have been if they were younger – and that is because it is not just a person they are divorcing, it is a lifetime of memories.

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About the Author: Marco Brown
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Marco C. Brown was named Utah’s Outstanding Family Law Lawyer of the Year in 2015. He graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2007 and is currently the managing partner of Brown Family Law, LLC.
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