(BPT) - Baby boomer couples that have been married 25 years or more are divorcing at record rates, according to a recent study by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green University in Ohio. While overall divorce rates peaked in the 1980s at around 50 percent, divorce among baby boomer couples 50 years or older has doubled over the last 20 years. In 1990, the study noted, 1 in 10 people who divorced were 50 years or older. Today, that figure is 1 in 4. And, if you’ve been married previously, the likelihood that your second or third marriage will end in divorce is 2.5 times greater than first-time marriages.
“Because of several high-profile splits of baby boomer couples in the news recently, most people would assume that infidelity is the leading cause of divorce among older Americans,” says Don Cosley, a divorce attorney with the Cosley Law Office in Chicago. “The reality is that lack of communication is often the deal breaker. Empty nesters wake up one day and realize they have nothing in common with their spouse. That’s because they haven’t kept up the communication in their marriages.”
Unlike a younger couple that divorces, when a couple that has been married for a long time breaks up, the impact can be dramatic for the couple and those around them, notes Cosley. The division of assets, health care issues, handling long-time friendships with other couples, and sharing the holidays with adult children are just some of the issues that come up in the dissolution of a long-time marriage.
If you’re over 50 and considering filing for divorce, or if you’re in the middle of a divorce, here are some tips from FindLaw.com, the nation’s leading website for free legal information:
* Prepare financially: Legal fees alone can range from several hundred dollars to tens of thousands, depending upon how long you’ve been married, child custody and the size of the estate that needs to be divided. The cost alone of establishing a new household can double expenses overnight. If you foresee divorce in your future, it’s important to save to prepare for a new transition. Women should especially be concerned. According to the National Center of Health Statistics, it’s not uncommon for women to experience a 45 percent post-divorce drop in their standard of living.
* Seek professional help: Couples divorcing may just want to rip off the bandage and sever all ties as quickly as possible. However, immediately cashing out stock and bond investments, IRA accounts and selling your home or vacation property can cost both parties thousands in capital gains taxes. Consider consulting a certified divorce financial analyst to assist you in making wise decisions in separating assets, in conjunction with your divorce attorney.
* Retirement and Social Security: Couples that are retired and living off retirement assets face other complexities. A Qualified Domestic Relations Order, which is a separate court order determining the division of retirement assets, may be required. Older couples also need to face questions about survivor benefits if the other spouse dies. They should review special rules regarding Social Security benefits, such as entitlement to survivor benefits for couples that have been married for more than 10 years and are older than 62.
* Be cautious with social media: According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 81 percent of U.S. divorce attorneys say they’ve seen a dramatic rise in the number of divorce cases involving social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Family law attorneys warn baby boomers that some of these websites can be potential problem spots. Posts on social media sites are frequently being entered into evidence in divorce cases to document infidelities or spousal neglect.
* Consider your pets: You may think of your pets as if they were your own children, but the courts look at a pet as property. Because pet custody cases have increased dramatically over the past several years, divorce attorneys say if you want to avoid a judge making a decision about who gets the pet, it's best if the couple decides between themselves. Consider ownership, visitation rights and how veterinary bills will get divided. Otherwise, judges are most likely to award pets to the spouse who gets primary custody of the children.
* Health care insurance: One of the most complex aspects of divorce among older couples is health care insurance. In cases where one spouse is dependent on the other for health care insurance, some couples separate but do not go through with divorce because of the enormous costs of insurance, especially if one of the partners is suffering from a health issue such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases. Many insurance companies have strict rules related to divorce, so check your policies and consult an attorney.
To learn more about divorce law and find an attorney near you, visit FindLaw.com.