Silver Separations – divorce rate rising for over 60’s

This article originally appeared in i-MAGAZINE

Move over Silver Surfers, the UK now has a trend in Silver Separations. Office for National Statistic’s figures reveal that the number of over 60’s in England and Wales who are getting divorced is on the rise, a trend which contrasts with falling divorce rates in the rest of the population.

While the number of divorces has been falling since the mid 1990’s, having reached a peak of 165,000 in 1993, the number of older people filing for divorce has increased. The figures show that marriages are now more likely to end in divorce than to end in the death of a spouse. In 1991 there were 1.6 divorces per 1,000 married men over 60 but by 2011, the latest year for which figures are available; this number had risen to 2.3 per 1,000, with solicitors reporting anecdotally that this trend continues. Of the 118,000 divorces pronounced in 2011, 9,500 were granted to men age 60 or over, a rise of 73 per cent from 1991, and the trend was similar for women with 5,800 women over 60 divorced in 2011, up 3,200 from 1991.

There are a variety of explanations for the trend with academic research from the University of Ohio indicating that increased life expectancy, fewer social stigmas and greater employment and financial independence of women ranking as the most likely reasons. Factor in “empty nest syndrome” and the cocktail is potentially toxic of the older couple. In short it has become more common to see divorce among the over 60s.

Irrespective of the causes, the fact remains that older couples who have been married for a long time have usually built up significant capital assets comprising real property, pensions and other investments, that then need to be distributed fairly between them when the marriage breaks down and they decide to go their separate ways.

After such a long time together, and often with a view to minimising anxiety to themselves, any children and indeed to keep the legal costs to a minimum, it is wise for the parties to adopt a realistic and transparent approach to sharing their financial information with each other at an early stage in the process, so that all the assets can be identified and valued. Constructive negotiations can then take place in order to produce a final agreement.

When assisting the parties with negotiations, the advice of a specialist family lawyer is invaluable. They will be able to guide the parties on those factors which a Court would consider in determining what is a fair outcome, in order to ensure that sensible proposals are exchanged as soon as possible, therefore avoiding costly litigation. The most important factors to bear in mind when determining a fair settlement between an older couple are:

• The length of the marriage

• The age of each party

• The health of each party and any physical or mental disability

• The income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each party has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future e.g. pensions

• The financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each of the parties has or is likely to have in the future

• The standard of living enjoyed in the marriage

• The contributions by each to the welfare of the family

Specialist family lawyers can also advise on how a Court would apply each of these factors in a given case to guide negotiations and can also advise on whether other forms of Dispute Resolution, such as Mediation or Arbitration are suitable, thereby allowing the parties to reach agreement outside the Court process. Advice can also be provided on the formal valuation of marital assets.

Despite the upward trend for Silver Separation and divorce let’s keep things in perspective, the research shows that couples who survive the first 10 years of marriage are in a far stronger position to avoid divorce in the long run. Around half of all divorces occur during the first decade of marriage, with a steady 80 per cent taking place during the first 20 years. Only 6 per cent of divorces occur after 30 years, and only 1 per cent after 40 years. However, with many couples choosing to marry two or even three times in their lives (such is the triumph of hope over adversity) it seems inevitable that the Silver Separation trend will continue unabated.

For further advice on this issue, please contact Mary-Ann Wright

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Mary-Ann Wright

Partner - Head of Family (London & Birmingham)

I am a Partner and Head of the Family Law Team in our London and Birmingham offices. My expertise encompasses all aspects of family law, in particular divorce, financial claims, wealth management and children matters.