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Legal Issues for ‘Silver Splitters’ Divorcing Couples

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Figures published on 6 August by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show an increase in divorce for couples aged 60 and over, but falling rates for the rest of the population.

Between 1991-2011 divorces for men over 60 (and mostly marriages of 25+ years) increased by 73%; there were 2.3 divorces for every 1,000 married men in 2011, up from 1.6 in 1991.

Although it may be heralded as a bid for freedom by stifled older couples, the statistics also imply some worrying issues for so called ‘silver splitters’.

Reasons for the Rise of Silver Splitters

Research suggests there are three main reasons for this rise. Firstly divorce is no longer socially stigmatised; secondly older people are benefiting from increased life expectancy and thirdly there are increasing numbers of women working and being financially independent.

Another factor influencing over-60s divorce is that retirement “can trigger a wider reappraisal” of people’s lives. With improved health and wellbeing, people now face a 20 or 30 year retirement and might find that they have little in common with their spouse. There also seems to be a marked increase in people with itchy feet, keen to see the world and having lists of things they feel they should do before they die.

Many in the baby boomer generation have financial security, property and pensions and possibly a greater understanding of the financial aspects of divorce. Since 2000 a simple 50/50 division of assets has been the norm in divorce cases whereas before there were considerations about what the “weaker financial party would need for the rest of their lives”. Pension funds can also be split although this is complex due to the difficulties in comparing pensions with differing contributions and rights.

The Financial Penalties of Divorce in Retirement

However, Prudential’s research shows that divorce significantly diminishes the income retirees might expect, putting the financial wellbeing of ‘silver splitters’ at risk. Expected income for those retiring this year is already at its lowest for six years and divorce would reduce this by a further 16% on average.

Thus late divorce may be financially damaging, creating a retirement income gap. Cost factors can include buying separate houses, the financial fallout from splitting assets and professional fees.

Older women are especially vulnerable to the financial effects of divorce due to lower earnings over their lifetimes and lower pensions. Many are reliant on their husband’s pension for their retirement income and dividing a pension fund can be complex and sensitive, with it often forming the largest of a couple’s assets.

Expert professional advice from specialist lawyers, pensions consultants and financial advisers is a must.

A Final Word of Caution

Further words of caution about the growing trend for over-60s divorce have been voiced by the relationship organisation Relate. It says the baby boomer generation needs help to maintain relationships given the pressures facing couples as they grow older and has emphasised that strong personal relationships are the most important factor for a happy later life.

For more information please contact Jeetesh Patel via e- mail JPatel@rollingsons.co.uk or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.

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