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Older Adults

Divorce in Later Years

Getting a divorce is almost always painful and stressful, no matter how old or young you are. But if your marriage falls apart later in life, you may face some financial and emotional setbacks that are more difficult to recover from than when you were younger.

Divorce at an older age

Divorce can be more difficult for an older adult for many reasons. Divorce tends to take a heavy financial toll. If you get a divorce when you’re younger, you have the time and the ability to make the money needed to erase any debt from the divorce. But if you are older or retired, you may not have as much time to make that money back. This can leave you in financial difficulty.

Also, some older adults are less independent than they were when they were younger. This is particularly true if they have a chronic health condition. They may have relied on their spouse for both physical assistance and companionship. This can make divorce at this stage of life especially devastating. They may not feel like they can bounce back like they did when they were younger.

Steps to protect your future

Here are things to do to lessen the blow of a divorce in later life.

Social Security payments

If your former spouse has Social Security benefits and you were married for at least 10 years, you should have a claim to 50% of your former spouse’s benefits. This applies if you are 62 or older and his or her benefits are not reduced at all.

The Social Security benefits end if your former spouse dies. But you should then be eligible for survivor benefits, which are 100% of the Social Security retirement benefits. You can find more information at the Social Security website.

Property and investments

You should have a claim to a portion of any investments in your spouse’s name. Your lawyer should represent you when these assets are divided.

Many states have community property laws that require your joint property to be divided equally. Experts advise that you each ask for a mix of benefits. If you ask for only the marital house, for example, and promise to buy out your spouse, you may have to sell the house for less than you thought if the housing market worsens. You may then owe additional money to your ex.

You can avoid future financial headaches by making sure you (and not your ex) take on the responsibility for payments on any property you get as part of the divorce. For example, if you get the car, arrange to take your spouse’s name off the car loan and make the remainder of the payments yourself. This avoids a situation in which your ex could later decide not to make payments that he or she agreed to. This could result in your car being repossessed.

Your credit rating

Another important step is to run a credit check on your spouse. Make sure that your name isn’t on any loan he or she might have taken out without your knowledge. Creditors will come after you for payment if your ex-spouse defaults. Agreements made in a divorce settlement don’t apply to institutions like banks or even the IRS.

Other legal paperwork

Make sure that important legal papers are updated. These include your will, your living will, and your estate plan. For instance, you probably want to make sure he or she doesn’t have life and death decision-making power for you anymore. This kind of information might be spelled out in your living will.

Limiting the price of a divorce

Legal costs of a divorce can take a big bite out of your savings. You can try to keep the legal fees down by having a joint consultation with a divorce attorney. Then handle most of the paperwork and the division of assets yourself. But a lawyer should review any agreement and make sure the settlement is in your best interest.

Your emotional health

You may need to mourn the loss of your relationship and to forgive your ex in order to move forward in your life. Talk with your adult children and make sure they know they don’t have to take sides. And try to create a supportive network of friends and family. If necessary, talk with a counselor or therapist who can help see you through this painful time.

Nothing can completely eliminate the heartache of a divorce later in life. With the help of qualified legal professionals and others, you can find the healing and security to begin your new journey.

Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2016
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