Art of Aging: Gray Divorce

Divorce is never easy for any couple, but it becomes more complicated among older adults who have been together for decades.

It has been dubbed gray divorce because of the record rate at which older couples are now calling it quits.

Mary Ann Merlino Oleksa of Marlton, New Jersey ended her marriage a little more than a year ago and says it was a decision that was challenging, emotionally, physically and financially.

She said, "You're not sure what you're doing. What step do I take first, what step do I take second? You are alone, you're not working any more, you're retired, and you're living on Social security."

She'd planned for the move, saved her money and sought professional counsel. Family and divorce lawyer Mark Guralnick says the gray divorce trend can be particularly tricky as many older couples have been together 30 to 40 years.

"There are health considerations. There are retirement considerations. A client may come to me and say I'm getting divorced, but I've already written my will, so how do I protect my assets?" said Guralnick.

And, unlike younger couples who can afford to change financial course, he says it's important that gray divorcees get it right. And, he says when seniors are seeking spousal support, it can get complicated.

Guralnick says, "Because in many cases, the spouse who would be doing the supporting is not capable of doing that supporting anymore."

Experts attribute the growing gray divorce trend to the fact that people are living longer and women have become more independent.

Mary Ann says, "More people at my age, at this time of life are starting to realize that you don't have to put up with a lot of stuff that women did years ago. You can be your own person."

She says it wasn't easy. She had to survive a full year on just social security and savings until court-ordered spousal support came through. But now, she says, she's back on her feet and feeling stronger and more confident.

"I'm going to go out now and either get a part time job or do some volunteer work now, and help somebody else," said Mary Ann.

If you have questions about gray divorce, the Senior Law Center in Philadelphia can help.

You can find other resources in our Art of Aging section.
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