Silver Splitters – Divorce, And Financial Settlements For The Over 50s

They say 60 is the new 40. This may, therefore, explain a social change that could change the dynamic of our society. ‘Silver splitters’ is the term given to couples divorcing after 50. If you have been unhappy in your marriage for many years but stayed together for the children or out of familiarity, moving on from your marriage may be a positive change. However, divorcing in your 50s and 60s can have a profound effect on your finances and your ability to support yourself in your old age.

The rising trend of the over-50s divorce

In June 2017, data released from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that divorce in England and Wales had fallen to its lowest rate since the law was liberalised in 1971[1]. Figures showed that marriages were also lasting longer; the median time a couple stays married is now 11.9 years, up from a low of 8.9 years in 1985.

The decline in divorce can be attributed to people marrying later, and forgoing marriage completely, choosing to live together instead.

However, over 50s are bucking the trend; instances of this age-group filing for divorce are rising.

The factors causing this dramatic change in divorce statistics for over 50s include:

  • People are living longer. If you reach 65 and are fit and healthy, you can expect to enjoy another 20 years of active life. Many people see no reason to remain in an unhappy marriage after the children have flown the nest, especially if they feel they may have a chance to find happiness with someone else
  • Longer life expectancy is also tougher on marriage as a whole. Let’s be honest, back in the day when most people were lucky to make it to 50, till death do us part did not seem too onerous a burden. But if you marry at 30 and feel you have grown apart from your spouse by 40, another 40-50 years can seem a long time to spend with the wrong person
  • More people in their 50s and 60s are on their second or third marriage, and statistically, these are more likely to end in divorce
  • People are now marrying and having children much later, meaning many couples are in their mid-50s by the time their children have left home
    Financial consequences of divorcing after 50

There are two juxtaposing consequences of divorcing after 50. On the one hand, middle-aged couples tend to be wealthier, having paid off mortgages, perhaps owning a holiday home and having significant pension funds. However, divorce can have a brutal impact on shared wealth, meaning it is crucial to seek experienced legal advice if you divorce at this stage of your life.

The financial consequences of later life divorce can be especially devastating for a spouse who may have given up their career to look after children. They may have chosen to work in lower-skilled jobs to have more time to dedicate to their families. If their marriage breaks down, they may look at returning to their original profession, or even retraining. However, two significant barriers may impede their plans:

Age discrimination in the workforce – although illegal under the Equality Act 2010, this is a practical reality; and
Having been outside the workforce for so long, they may struggle to find the confidence it takes to upskill and apply for positions
English courts have an international reputation for bestowing generous financial settlements on financially weaker spouses. This should provide encouragement to those wondering how they will support themselves in their later years following a divorce. It is also important to remember that most financial settlements are agreed outside of court, through round-table negotiation and/or mediation. These non-litigious dispute resolution methods provide an opportunity for couples to work out a fair financial settlement which will allow them both to move on to a prosperous future.

How do split your pension

At this stage of life, pensions are often as valuable as the family home. There are three ways pensions can be split following a divorce;

  • one party keeps the pension and the other takes a larger share of the other marital assets (such as the family home)
  • pension sharing – this is where the pension is divided into two portions
  • pension-earmarking – each party waits until the pension pays out and splits it between them

The option you choose will depend on the value of any other assets and how much time you have left to build up further pension funds.

Finding a place to live

Finding a new home can be a significant concern for silver splitters, who may struggle to convince lenders that they can fund a mortgage, especially if they are close to or have reached retirement age.

The number of people over 50 in rental accommodation has risen significantly, older tenants now account for 8% of renters, up from 5.2% in 2007[2].

Having to pay rent in retirement can strain finances. Your best protection against having to rent after divorce is to obtain a good financial settlement that allows you to buy a home outright, or with a minimal mortgage.

In summary

Divorcing in later life results in many mixed emotions, from sadness and anger that your marriage did not work, to anticipation and excitement of being able to explore new opportunities.

Loneliness can play a big role in silver splitters’ lives. Adult children may sometimes side with one parent and many friendships that you have built up over the years as a couple may fall by the wayside. Make sure you prioritise building up and maintaining a support network. Reconnect with old friends, join community groups and partake in new hobbies.

Finally, if you are thinking about leaving your marriage, seek out experienced legal advice from a family lawyer you feel comfortable with. They will advise you on the best options available so you can secure a fair financial settlement that will provide the security and foundation you need to start building a new future.

Rosie Bracher are specialist family law solicitors based in Barnstaple. We have the knowledge and expertise to advise you on all matters involving divorce and family law. Please contact our office on 01271 314 904 and arrange to speak to one of our team.

[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/divorce/bulletins/divorcesinenglandandwales/2015

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/11/rise-pensioner-bachelor-pads-silver-splitters-lead-record-number/