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What Special Issues Arise in a “Gray Divorce?”

The divorce rate of people over 50 years old has been steadily climbing over the last 30 years. In fact, researchers believe it will triple by 2030. Commonly referred to as “gray divorce,” a marriage dissolution later in life can give rise to certain issues that are not relevant for younger couples.

The increase in gray divorce may be attributed to many factors. Longer life expectancies and an emphasis on personal happiness may play a role. Attitudes toward divorce have changed, and couples might realize they no longer have anything in common once their children leave home. In some cases, divorce can result from abuse or neglect due to mental health problems such as dementia or bipolar disorder.

While child support or custody are usually not relevant in a gray divorce, there are unique challenges that older couples might face. These issues can include the following:

  • Spousal support — As in any divorce, a financially dependent spouse may be entitled to spousal support. But determining the amount and duration of alimony in a gray divorce can be more complex, especially for a marriage that has lasted many years.
  • Dividing property —Michigan uses the rule of equitable distribution, which looks at multiple factors to ensure that property is divided fairly. Couples who divorce after decades of marriage often have acquired a significant and diverse portfolio of property that must be accounted for.
  • Retirement benefits — Each spouse will likely have a vested interest in the other’s pension or other retirement fund based on contributions made during the course of the marriage. Usually, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is needed to accomplish the division of these benefits.
  • Social Security benefits —Federal regulations for distributing Social Security benefits must be followed. These depend in part on your age and the length of your marriage. For instance, if you are 62 or older and have been married for 10 or more years, you can collect Social Security from your spouse’s account without reducing their benefits.
  • The family home — The issue of who gets to keep the house is often a contentious matter in a divorce, and especially when it has sentimental value built up over a lifetime of raising a family. If spouses cannot reach an agreement regarding the house, they may have to sell it and its furnishings and divide the proceeds.

If you are faced with the prospect of divorce in your later years, it’s vital to have a skilled attorney by your side who can help you deal with the special issues that may come up. With over 40 years of experience, Dawson Family Law, PLLC offers competent counsel and knowledgeable representation for divorce and family law matters in Michigan. Call 833-671-4445 or contact me online to schedule a consultation at my Sterling Heights office.

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