Antonio found his wife’s old love letters. Unfortunately for his wife Rosa, she had not written the amorous notes to Antonio, but to her lover. Antonio sued for divorce. At the time, says Vintage News1, Antonio was 99, Rosa was 96, the affair had taken place 60 years earlier, and the couple had been married for 77 years. Antonio’s and Rosa’s Italian divorce set a record for the oldest couple to split. It brings to mind the special considerations of divorce for the elderly.
If you and your wife have been married so long, your marriage certificate is printed on parchment paper, you qualify for what is commonly called “gray divorce.” One of the special considerations in severing a marriage of great longevity is determining a reasonable spousal support schedule.
Under Virginia law, the length of a marriage is one of the factors under § 20-107.1 that directly affects the court’s decree as to maintenance of a spouse:
In determining the nature, amount and duration of an award pursuant to this section, the court shall consider the following:
- The obligations, needs and financial resources of the parties, including but not limited to income from all pension, profit sharing or retirement plans, of whatever nature;
- The standard of living established during the marriage;
- The duration of the marriage …
(We added the emphasis, not the legislators.) A marriage of a year or so means the two parties have not had time to grow wholly dependent on each other. A marriage of 30 years or so is another matter. Your ex-wife may have come to rely on your income, your stability and financial resources.
Difficulties Separating Property
Another challenge for gray divorce is a clear division of separate property and marital property. If decades have passed since you two married, you may have lost track of who owned what coming into the marriage. Under Virginia law, § 20-107.3 instructs judges to respect separate property and return it to its rightful owner (property purchased individually, before the marriage). What, though, if neither you nor your ex-wife can recall who had what?
This applies to real estate, vehicles, artwork, furnishings, jewelry and just about everything under your roof. Things get even dicier if the court views something as a hybrid; that is, part separate property and part marital property. Income from, for example, rental units you owned before your marriage could be viewed as marital property if your ex-wife can show you used some of that income to support the marriage.
Gray divorce can have drastically negative consequences on your living expenses, since years of marriage have put both of you out of touch with how much less expensive two living together is than two living apart. Be prepared for a serious downgrade in the quality of your life, your discretionary income, and even your housing quality.
Routine matters like automobile insurance and homeowners insurance become more complex in a gray divorce, say experts at Money Talks News. If you handled everything insurance- and financial-related, your ex-wife may be completely lost and simply not bother to tend to insurance, health coverage and other basics.
For both of you, if you have to shop for new policies (home, auto, life), be prepared to face extra scrutiny due to your demographics. Insurance actuaries will not overlook either of your ages.
Many elderly divorced people are retired, so they have to equitably divide pensions, medical insurance and long-term care policies and many other financial instruments. Social Security is another negotiable point; she may be able to collect Social Security off your lifetime earnings.
Health matters become more complicated in elder divorce, as well. Where, for instance, you once cited each other as emergency contacts or placed one another on HIPAA information-sharing worksheets, now you will have to designate others, like your adult children. Simple matters like driving a spouse to a medical appointment need to be tackled anew.
Though adult children are sometimes better prepared to handle their parents’ divorce than minors, the news still comes as a shock. You never stop being a parent, whether you are 50 or 70. You and your almost-ex-wife need to stage manage the information carefully. This is not as simple as sitting toddlers down at the breakfast table, either; adult children have work schedules, their own children, and homes of their own. You may have to work around their availability.
But It’s Not All Bad News
Still, as MarketWatch points out, gray divorce is climbing steadily. As Americans live longer and healthier lives, they tend to view their mental health as a valuable asset; they refuse to stay in unhappy marriages simply because of habit.
Though retirement and your senior years may be a bit bumpier when you go it alone, you also enjoy greater freedom to make decisions for yourself. You can plan on being happier, perhaps, than you have in decades. Where marriage may have felt constrictive, the luxury of a gray divorce is the sense of personal fulfillment many seniors enjoy.
Where once divorce was viewed as a failure of character, the 109 percent growth in gray divorce rates clearly says elderly people no longer feel hampered by social norms.
While special issues do arise in gray divorce, none is so challenging that you should rule it out if you genuinely feel you want a happier life in your golden years.
At The Firm For Men we respect your experience, your wisdom, and your rights as a Virginia man. Contact us online or by telephone, 757-383-9184. We can help you understand the unique challenges an elder divorce presents. We can help you protect your financial security, legal rights, and dignity.