Silver Splitters Divorce: Why Are More Older Couples Getting Divorced?
Over the past couple of decades, although overall divorce rates have remained pretty steady, there has been a marked increase in the number of older married couples deciding to separate.
According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of men filing for divorce aged 65 and over went up by 23% between 2005 and 2015 – with an even higher increase of 38% for women of the same age bracket.
In this article we will explore the new phenomenon of ‘Silver Splitters Divorce’ and provide a few tips for people who are considering getting divorced later in life.
What is Silver Splitters Divorce?
Silver splitters divorce or grey divorce is a phrase that refers to the demographic trend of an increasing divorce rate for older “grey-haired” couples that have often been in long-lasting relationships.
The term “silver splitters divorce” has been heavily used in the press to refer to the growing trend of divorce amongst older generations. This demographic has also been colloquially referred to as “silver separators”, “silver splicers” and “grey divorce”.
Despite differences in terminology, essentially it’s all about the emerging cohort of married pensioners (or those of a similar age) who are increasingly deciding to go their separate ways.
Quite often “silver splitters” will have been married for several decades and have children who have grown up and flown the nest. Until recently it was relatively rare for people over 65 to seek divorce, so the fact that it is a new phenomenon is perhaps partly the reason it has attracted press attention and the consequent panoply of labels such as “grey divorce” etc.
Why are more older generation couples now seeking to divorce?
There are various potential reasons for the pronounced rise in over-65s getting divorced, some of which include:
- Life expectancy – both women and men are living a lot longer than several decades ago. On average people in the UK can currently expect to reach their early 80s, but in the 1930s this was about 60. Although living longer is arguably beneficial overall, one of the side effects is that people often have many years ahead of them after they retire, and this can cause them to re-evaluate their life. Rather than just settling for a quiet and comfortable retirement in their twilight years, many individuals in their 60s and 70s are finding a new lease of life and decide to make radical changes – which sometimes include getting divorced and finding a new partner.
- Reduced stigma – the concept of divorce was still relatively taboo until around the 1970s. Prior to that, a more religious and conservative society frowned upon married couples who broke their marriage vows. The “baby boomer” generation was arguably the first to have really embraced divorce, and they only reached their retirement years in the last couple of decades. So, the fact that the phenomenon of silver splitters was first observed in the 2000s is probably linked to these individuals being born into a more liberal society and therefore not fearing being judged by getting divorce – even in their later years. Hence the term “Boomer Divorce”!
- Female emancipation – many married women now earn as much as their husbands or are even the main breadwinners. A few decades ago, women were far more likely to become housewives rather than pursue their own career ambitions. Greater financial equality provides a greater sense of freedom, and older women are now likely to have built up their own pension pot which is sufficient to enable them to live independently in their retirement. Therefore, women of all ages are now more confident to end a marriage which is not working out.
- Meeting new partners – according to the aforementioned ONS data, the number of brides and grooms aged 65 and over went up by 46% in a decade, from 7,468 in 2004 to 10,937 in 2014. These figures indicate that many older people are meeting new romantic partners – possibly as a result of easy access to online dating websites, or generally due to leading a more active retirement. However, it remains unclear as to whether older people are increasingly (i) getting divorced because they meet a new partner or (ii) meeting new partners because they are getting divorced. Either way, opportunities for finding love later in life are far more available as a result of the online revolution and the mushrooming dating websites targeted towards over-60s – so there is less fear that getting divorced will result in spending the rest of one’s life single and alone.
- Pandemic – although not specific to older couples, there was a surge of divorce enquiries over COVID-19 lockdowns. It is likely that the pandemic caused many people to reassess their lives and relationships; some married couples who were suddenly forced to spend much more time together decided that they no longer wanted to remain in their relationships.
Advice for Silver Splitters
People getting divorced later in life – particularly those who have been together for several decades – will often have accumulated significant assets during the course of their marriage. But they are also more likely to be retired and reliant on their pensions, with less chance of acquiring new wealth through work.
It is therefore more crucial for silver splitters to ensure they reach a mutually satisfactory divorce settlement compared to their younger counterparts, since (i) there is a larger matrimonial pot to be divided and (ii) they will be more reliant on their own portion of the settlement to cover their future living costs.
Since people who have reached retirement age are unable to get a mortgage, it’s vital that any existing assets (usually consisting primarily of the shared marital home) are sufficiently distributed so that both divorcing parties are able to purchase their own properties.
Carefully considering the division of pension pots, which is often an afterthought for younger couples getting divorced, will be one of the most important factors for silver splitters in negotiating a fair financial settlement.
Although everyone should review their will following a divorce (or any other significant life events), this is particularly pertinent for couples separating in their advanced years. If they want their former spouse to still be a beneficiary, updating their will is especially important, as otherwise they will not automatically stand to inherit anything.
In another article we take a more detailed look at some of the financial consequences of getting divorced later in life – while also highlighting the potential for women to suffer greater monetary loss.
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