The divorce of Bill and Melinda Gates made headlines recently, not only because of the size of the marital estate, but also because they were married so long. Many people were astounded that after 27 years of marriage, a couple, such as the Gates, who seemingly had it all, would divorce. What is even more surprising is that it is becoming increasingly common for people to divorce after many years of being married, raising children, and readying themselves for their golden years. This situation even has a name—it is known as a “gray divorce.” Couples who divorce after a long-term marriage, typically when they are over the age of 50, fall into the category of a “gray divorce.” For many, after their children have grown and moved from the family home, the couple is left behind to re-evaluate their relationship and, particularly, with whom they wish to spend the rest of their lives. No longer consumed by raising children and child-related activities, or climbing the corporate ladder and establishing successful careers, many couples come to the realization that they would rather live the remainder of their lives separately than remain together. While the overall divorce rate has been dropping, the number of divorces for people over age 50 is surging. The recent global pandemic has only increased the number of couples over age 50 reconsidering their future and the state of their marriage.
A gray divorce is often not a simple divorce, as it requires the unwinding and division of a marital estate built over many years. There are often many assets to value and complex issues to tackle. Since many couples are starting to think of retirement at this stage of life rather than building their careers, the division of assets takes on an even greater importance because there is less time to recoup assets that are lost in a divorce. In some instances, the parties are already retired. Pensions and other retirement assets may be in pay status and thus a division of same may be more complicated than by simply utilizing a qualified domestic relations order. Selling a marital home may make sense for both parties, neither of whom, may want to be saddled with the expense and upkeep of maintaining a home with more space than needed. However, disposing of a vacation home that was contemplated as a retirement home or a place for extended family to gather and enjoy becomes more emotional and difficult. Those who are still employed may be reaping greater benefits, bonuses, perquisites and income as a result of achieving their greatest career potential. This also results in more assets to consider, value, divide and dispute in a divorce.