Divorce rates among seniors have skyrocketed over the past 25 years. In the 1990s, one in every ten people going through a divorce was over age 50. Today, it is one in every four. The phenomenon is called “gray divorce.”

Several factors have impacted the rise of gray divorce. Changes in law, religion and public opinion all play vital roles.

Factors in gray divorce

People are free to divorce their spouse for any reason, but this was not always the case. In the past, a spouse filing for divorce had to prove either infidelity, cruelty, abandonment, imprisonment or a failure to consummate the marriage before a judge would grant the divorce. The first case of “no-fault” divorce occurred in California in 1970. It took longer for other states to adopt the policy. New York State only allowed its first no-fault divorce in 2012. Most older couples married decades ago, so spouses who want a divorce may now file without proving fault.

Alongside the law, churches began to lessen divorce restrictions. Even the Catholic Church and Pope Francis are revisiting their policies. Older spouses who want a divorce may have previously feared ostracization from their community.

Another factor is money. Couples over 50 are considering retirement and end-of-life finances. A spouse’s poor money management skills may be too much after decades of marriage. Studies also indicate that the more money the wife makes, the less stable a marriage becomes. Working wives over 50 are more likely to secure promotions and raises in their careers, prompting a desire for financial independence.

Some couples are experiencing what several call “Tipper and Al Gore Syndrome.” After 40 years of marriage, the famous political couple divorced, having simply “grown apart.” These amicable separations after decades of knowing one another are not uncommon with gray divorce.

Legal considerations

Gray divorce is not without its legal complications. Spouses over 50 with questions about property division, investments and retirement accounts may find answers with a local lawyer experienced in family law. An attorney can help protect one’s assets and estate in a gray divorce.