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The Challenges of a Gray Divorce

December 16, 2021

Tips for Navigating Divorce Later in Life

In recent years, more couples over the age of 50 are getting divorced. In fact, the divorce rate among people aged 50 and older has doubled in the last 20 years.1 This phenomenon of getting divorced later in life is sometimes referred to as “gray divorce,” and it presents unique challenges, including the following.

  • Supporting two households in retirement – A 40-year-old who loses 50% of their retirement savings has more time to recover than a 65-year-old. Splitting assets later in life can make it much more difficult to support each individual’s housing, income, medical and retirement needs.
  • Locating all marital assets – After a lifetime of working, saving and investing together, it can be difficult to account for all marital assets. It’s important to collect as much documentation as possible of accounts, investments and any unique assets such as stock options, ownership stakes, credit card miles, travel rewards, executive compensation arrangements, car allowances, etc.
  • Identifying marital vs. pre-marital assets – For couples who divorce just a few years after getting married, it’s easy to identify pre-marital accounts, assets and other possessions. However, once you’ve been married for decades, it can be more difficult to separate individually owned assets from jointly owned assets. This is especially true if individual assets were used to purchase a joint or household asset such as a home, car, college education, etc.
  • Social Security – If you are divorcing after a long marriage and one spouse earned significantly less income during the marriage, they may be entitled to Social Security benefits based on the higher-earning spouse’s income. Social Security rules are complex, so it’s wise to work with a wealth manager to help determine your eligibility.

There are many questions that you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse will need to answer as you navigate a gray divorce, including:

  • What happens if my ex-spouse passes away? Should I consider a life insurance policy to cover any lost alimony?
  • Who will help with tax preparation or bill pay if my spouse has always handled that?
  • How should I budget and plan for expenses?
  • How will my retirement goals be impacted?
  • If the family home is sold, will my living expenses increase?
  • Who retains control of our grandchildren’s custodial and education savings accounts?

While you are navigating these challenging tasks, we recommend working with your wealth manager and attorney on the following.

  1. List all assets and debts.
  2. Determine how all assets are titled.
  3. Value the assets.
  4. Determine the net after-tax value of each asset.
  5. Review a retirement projection with your wealth manager to determine if you are on track to meet your retirement goals, given how assets may be divided.
  6. Divide the assets and debts.

Divorce is never easy, regardless of how old you are. However, at Creative Planning, our teams have expertise in helping ensure the process is as streamlined as possible. We focus on providing you with confidence and security by helping to determine your financial needs, gain an understanding of your options and make decisions that are in the best interest of you and your family. For help navigating the divorce process, or for any other financial matter, please schedule a call.

Download our Gray Divorce Checklist


  1. https://www.wf-lawyers.com/divorce-statistics-and-facts/

This commentary is provided for general information purposes only, should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice, and does not constitute an attorney/client relationship. Past performance of any market results is no assurance of future performance. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources deemed reliable but is not guaranteed.


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