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What is a gray divorce, and what should I know before getting one?

On Behalf of | Oct 27, 2017 | Divorce, Gray Divorce, San Antonio Family Law Blog |

A so-called “gray divorce” is when a couple 50 or over decide to get a divorce, sometimes after being married for a quarter-century or longer. In a great number of these cases, the couple’s children have already moved out of the house, meaning they don’t have custody issues to settle. Sometimes, these couples do really “stay together for the sake of the kids,” and sometimes, becoming “empty nesters” makes them realize that the marriage isn’t working for them. 

The first thing to know about gray divorces is they can be just as emotionally difficult and just as raw as the divorces younger people go through. While divorce is a legal process, and it’s important to think of its impact to your finances, we understand that couples divorcing later in life are still divorcing. We recommend that all of our clients going through divorce see a counselor during the divorce process, in order to get through all the emotions a divorce brings, and to help focus our sessions on settling your divorce.

Just because couples going through gray divorces typically don’t have parenting and child support issues to work out, that doesn’t mean their divorces are conflict-free. In fact, many older couples have more complicated estates to settle than younger couples do, because they’ve been able to build up assets over time. A lot of the work in gray divorces, as you might imagine, involves determining how to split up their assets.

A July 2017 article on gray divorces in CNBC notes that the divorce rate for couples over 50 has doubled since the 1990s. The article goes on to warn that “gray divorce potentially endangers retirement for both parties, since they may be living on half the income they’d expected to have and may feel resentful about their change of plans.”

In Texas, which is a community property state, wealth accumulated during the marriage is considered to belong to the couple or community property. It is also possible to retain separate property that was acquired prior to marriage. It is important to be able to trace funds or property that may be separate property, especially when property has been commingled. It’s possible to receive an inheritance and have that considered separate property-though if an inherited sum of $5,000 goes into a joint bank account, for example, it may be presumed to be community property by a judge once it’s been deposited into that account.

The more detailed and complete records you keep about your finances, the easier it will be to determine what is community property and what is separate property. Depending on which type of divorce you choose, this determination can either happen through the discovery process (which typically happens in litigation) or can be valued by a financial professional working with the couple and their lawyers (if it’s a collaborative divorce).

It’s also possible that spousal maintenance might come into the equation. If only one person in the marriage earns income, or there’s a disparity between what those in the marriage earn, it might be required for the larger earner to pay spousal maintenance for a period of time. The state has specific guidelines for spousal maintenance; we can determine if it applies in your case if you think it might.

While “thinking about the children” is a must in divorce while both parents are still working to raise them to adulthood, it’s good to keep in mind in gray divorces in which children are young adults. Divorce impacts families regardless of how old the children are, and conflict for parents can be difficult for their offspring even if they’ve gained the maturity that school-age children don’t yet have.

If you’re looking for a lawyer to help you explore your options for a gray divorce, the Law Office of Lisa Vance has an experienced group of lawyers who can guide you through the process, whether we help you determine that litigation, collaborative law, or mediation is your best option.