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Unique Challenges Of A “Gray Divorce”

By Feb 6, 2022 Posted in Articles

Unique Challenges Of A “Gray Divorce”

Gray divorce has been on the rise in recent years according to the Pew Research Center which claims the trend is led by baby boomers. While the divorce rate is higher than in the past 25 years for those over 50 years old, married couples 65 years and older have seen the divorce rate nearly triple during the same time period. What are the reasons for this sharp increase, and what are the unique challenges of a “gray divorce?” Those with questions are invited to reach out to Simpson Legal Group, LLC at 712-256-9899.

Unique Issues in Gray Divorce

There are some key differences for those facing a divorce in their later years from those who divorce at a younger age. For instance, couples in their 50s, 60s, or older may face issues such as the division of marital estates that may be more complicated, as well as the division of pension and retirement benefits. Other areas of concern in a gray divorce include healthcare expenses, Medicare benefits, and uncertainty regarding beneficiaries in estate plans. Dividing assets can be more complicated for older spouses who have acquired substantial property and wealth over the years. Those facing divorce at an older age may want to consider seeking legal guidance with an experienced Iowa divorce attorney.

Why Gray Divorce Is on the Rise

There are several reasons the divorce rate has sharply risen over the last two decades in marriages involving those age 50 and older. These include:

  • Spouses grow apart following retirement or when they become “empty nesters”
  • Upon retiring, spouses realize after spending so much time together that they no longer have much (or anything) in common
  • Longer life expectancies may make the thought of spending another 25 or 30 years together unpleasant
  • Covid left many people staying at or working from home. Less healthy time apart and too much time together often results in tension and arguments for some older adults
  • Spouses often stay together for the sake of their children, then reconsider the marriage once they are grown and gone
  • Active retirement is difficult for the spouse who wants to travel, golf, or participate in other activities with a partner who has no interest
  • Life is short and changing course for what time is left may be more fulfilling for one or both spouses
  • Spouses work longer and establish financial independence

There are countless reasons why gray divorce is becoming more and more common today. Those who need legal guidance may want to consider reaching out to Simpson Legal Group, LLC.

Possible Consequences of a Gray Divorce

Sometimes referred to as “late-life” or “silver streak” divorce, those who get divorced at a later stage in life often face issues that are unique to their circumstances such as the status of Social Security benefits, life insurance, retirement, and more. One spouse may face financial hardship following the divorce. Alimony may be a consideration, and one spouse may wonder if it is possible to collect some of their partner’s Social Security benefits.

Social Security Benefits

For a spouse who did not work (or worked very little) during the marriage, it may be possible in some cases for that spouse to collect benefits on the Social Security record of their ex-spouse. This requires that:

  • The marriage lasted a minimum of 10 years
  • The spouse wanting to collect benefits is 62 years old or older

Retirement Benefits

Under Iowa law, marital property includes retirement benefits, regardless of whose name the retirement plan is under. This means that in most cases both spouses will be awarded a share of the retirement benefits. It is important to note that a separated court order known as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order will likely be required to divide a retirement plan. Spouses in a gray divorce will likely need to know:

  • What the Summary Plan Description contains (the retirement plan administrator can provide this)
  • Whether after the divorce, the other spouse will retain survivor benefits
  • How to escape tax sanctions on retirement distributions
  • If hardship withdrawals may be available
  • Whether the non-military spouse is eligible for survivor benefits when a retirement plan is based upon the United States military service

Key Considerations

Spouses in a gray divorce often do not know where to begin considering it can be so confusing and complicated. It is important to consider a few things including, but not limited to:

Retirement Savings

Spouses often save a substantial amount of money saved for retirement in their older years. When one or both spouses withdraw money too early, it can result in additional penalties and other charges. Keep in mind that it may be necessary for one or both spouses to remain in the workforce for several years longer to account for the loss of contribution to the retirement fund as well as the loss of income.

Estate Planning

Older couples often have insurance policies, a Last Will and Testament, and other documents that designate each other as beneficiaries or executors over the course of the marriage. Addressing these issues early on is important, and adjustments can be made swiftly to documents so that neither spouse has a general or health care directive power of attorney.


Alimony is not granted automatically in a divorce in Iowa however it is worth considering for spouses with few financial resources. There are certain factors that may come into play when a judge considers alimony including the length of the marriage, physical and emotional health, age, earning capacity, tax consequences to both spouses, property distribution, and more.

Consider Scheduling a Visit with Simpson Legal Group, LLC

The unique challenges of a gray divorce are something most married couples never consider until they face divorce at an older age, often after decades of marriage. Seeking the guidance of an experienced Iowa divorce attorney may be beneficial, along with the help of a financial advisor or other professional depending on the circumstances. Those wanting more information regarding gray divorce may want to consider scheduling a consultation with Simpson Legal Group, LLC at 712-256-9899.

Contact Us

50 Northcrest Drive, Council Bluffs, Iowa 51503
Phone: 712.256.9899

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