Family Law: Till death us do part?

Ciara Wilson wrote an article for The Guardian.

In recent years, divorce and family lawyers may have seen an increasing number of people over the age of 65 seeking advice on divorce, and indeed marriage.

There are various reasons why “silver splitters” as they have become known may decide to separate. Fundamentally, people in the UK are living longer on average. An individual aged 65 may live for another 20 years or more which is a considerable period to spend with someone with whom you are no longer happy. With the rise in average life expectancy, 65 is no longer considered old and people may have many years left to enjoy a happy and fulfilling life. There is also arguably less stigma surrounding divorce than with previous generations. Another explanation may be that many woman are now more economically independent from their husbands than in past times which provides them with greater freedom and with more avenues out of an unsatisfying marriage. It is of course also the case that, in general, people in the UK are now marrying later in life.

There is, however, arguably more to consider for those facing ‘grey divorce’. It is often the case that couples who have been together for many years have more complex and intertwined financial arrangements which are trickier to unpick. Over time they may have bought and sold numerous properties as they have moved up the housing ladder together, they will likely have invested into pensions, or have specifically arranged finances or expenses between them for tax efficiency purposes. These parties may also have received lump sums upon retirement or have inherited moneys during their marriage from relatives. It is therefore particularly important for these individuals to access clear advice on their options to help secure a settlement which will best meet their needs for the future.

Understandably, divorce can cause increased stress for older parties, particularly where court proceedings are raised, and there is a concern that this may have a greater impact on their health. We often see scenarios where adult children, friends or wider family take sides which can result in the other party feeling incredibly isolated at, what can already be, a quieter and lonelier period in life. While couples who divorce at a later stage may no longer have to grapple with agreeing childcare arrangements or decisions on schooling for their young children, older children may still have firm opinions on their parents’ separation and wish to have input into any financial division as this may have a bearing on their own future inheritance.

There also appears to be an increase in demand for prenuptial and cohabitation agreements amongst older people which is perhaps linked to the rise in divorces. Individuals who have already endured an acrimonious divorce from a previous spouse may wish to ensure their wealth is protected, and preserved for their children or grandchildren, before remarrying and to negate issues down the line.

Regardless of age, divorce can be a distressing and taxing time. However, there are a growing number of people choosing to divorce in retirement, and the number of over-60s legally separating has doubled since 1993, according to data from the ONS. For some divorce at a later stage can be liberating and we see many clients go on to enjoy a new phase in their life following the end of a relationship that had been unhappy, perhaps for a very long time. With the benefit of sound advice, we hope to alleviate some of the angst and guide individuals through the situation, aiding the most constructive resolution for them in their individual circumstances.