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Divorce law blog

When I’m sixty four (will you still need me?) - the rise of the silver divorce

03/12/2012   By: Nigel Shepherd

We’re told that 60 is the new 40. This isn’t just wishful thinking on the part of those of us fast approaching that milestone. When the NHS was set up in 1948, male life expectancy was 66. The idea of a man of almost 70 strutting around a stage at the O2 Arena telling you to get off his cloud would have been unthinkable. Men are now expected to live until around 78 and women 82. Statistically, a third of girls and a quarter of boys born now can expect to reach their 100th birthday. But, as the Stones sang, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, and the fact that we’re all living longer is reflected in a less happy statistic: the rise in so-called “silver divorces”. So why is it happening and are the issues faced by these couples and how we deal with them much different than they are for younger divorcees?

Three years ago 11,500 over 60 year olds got divorced. By 2010 that had gone up to 14,600 and the numbers are expected to carry on rising. Although this is still only 5 per cent of divorces, the increase is significant.

There are various reasons that could explain the rise in silver divorces. If you are in a marriage that has clearly broken down the new reality is that you could be around, in the words of the song, “many years from now”. Even if you’re drawing your pension, giving up the chance of future happiness is a much bigger decision than it was even a couple of decades ago. And today’s over 60s were teenagers in the Swinging Sixties and have a very different outlook to that of their parents. Perhaps most importantly, many more of them will be able to go their separate ways without too much financial hardship. Baby Boomers own around 90 per cent of the nation’s wealth. The children will have gone and many will have money put aside to soften the blow.

This doesn’t mean that the process will be easy. Far from it. As with almost everyone going through it there will be tears, regrets, anger and concern about the future. It’s just that they will hopefully not have the same level of economic pressures to add to the mix.

So if you’re a mature couple faced with divorce what are the key principles that will be applied when it comes to the money side of things? Here are some pointers:

  • Your marriage is more than likely going to have been a long one. There is no automatic formula for splitting what you have, but the starting point in practice will be 50:50.
  • The chances are that your family home will be mortgage free, making it easier to provide for a new home for both of you.
  • Pensions will take centre stage. It is possible for the court to make a pension sharing order so that both of you have a share of the overall pension pot. This is possible even if one or both pensions are already in payment. If you’re relying almost entirely on pension income, then it is likely that the sharing order will be aimed at giving you both the same income. That may mean an unequal split of the actual value of the pensions as complex calculations need to be made depending on your ages, health etc. Recent research shows that despite the fact that the option to share pensions has been around now for well over ten years, they are still too often overlooked in divorce settlements. You will need to get expert advice from your lawyer and probably from a suitably qualified pensions adviser.

Hopefully you will want to sort all this out without spending a fortune on legal fees. Divorce doesn’t have to be a battle. There are ways of dealing with it that preserve your dignity and money.

Not everyone can carry on forever like The Stones. Like so many people in a close relationship, The Beatles called it a day, but they had plenty to offer individually after their split. To paraphrase The Fab Four, you may be getting older, you may be losing your hair and you may or may not be staying out till quarter to three, but there’s no reason to dwell on yesterday.

Nigel Shepherd
Family Law Partner

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