Divorce After 50: Five Things You Should Know

Transitioning out of a long-term marriage later in life poses unique challenges, but divorce after 50 is on the rise. Here are five things you should know before you make the decision to strike it out on your own.

1. Find a Support Network. You don’t have to go through this transition alone. Whether you reach out to friends, family, clergy members, or a support group, surround yourself with people you can lean on as you face the challenges ahead. If you have adult children, be prepared for them to be deeply affected by the news.

2. Take Stock of Your Assets. Generally speaking, the longer the marriage, the more debts and assets amassed. These debts and assets will need to be divided between you and your spouse during the divorce process. Often in long-term marriages, one spouse will take on the responsibility of managing the money and paying the bills while the other spouse is less involved. If you are the money-manager in your relationship, you should already have a clear picture of what you and your spouse will need to divide. On the other hand, if your spouse typically handles the financial aspects of your marriage, you may need to do some digging to determine what is out there to divide.

I advise my clients to make copies of any recent bills, bank statements, pay stubs, or other financial information about themselves or their spouse. It is also a very good idea to request a free copy of your credit report as it will show you all debts in your name. The bottom line is, if there is an asset you don’t know about, then you cannot ask the court to give you half of it.

Once you have some documentation of all your assets, your attorney can advise you on how to fairly divide them. If needed, your attorney can use the discovery process to dig deeper into you and your spouse’s financial affairs. Note that in the context of a divorce, it does not matter whether an asset or debt is in the name of one spouse, the other spouse, or both spouses jointly; they are all subject to division by the court.

3. Determine if Spousal Support is Appropriate. Spousal support is often appropriate for long-term marriages, particularly when one spouse earns significantly less than the other (perhaps because he or she took time out of the workforce to raise children). It may also be appropriate in cases where one spouse is facing health issues that impair his or her ability to work. One of the goals of spousal support is to help the receiving spouse maintain his or her standard of living while recognizing that, since it’s more expensive to maintain two households than one, both parties may experience a decrease in their overall standard of living.

If spousal support is appropriate in your case, consider the amount and duration of the support. Generally speaking, the longer the marriage, the longer the support will last. Other factors affecting the duration include the age of the parties and the length of time until retirement.

Determine whether life insurance is appropriate. In Oregon, the courts frequently require a spouse paying support to also purchase a life insurance policy for the benefit of the spouse receiving support. In the event of the paying spouse’s death, the receiving spouse will receive the insurance money instead of years of spousal support. However, the cost of life insurance can skyrocket as the insured party grows older. In some cases, it makes more sense to have the spouse receiving support be responsible for paying the insurance premiums until he or she determines that it no longer cost-effective to maintain the policy.

4. Plan for Retirement. One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself when divorcing after 50 is to have a professional value your retirement accounts. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your $250,000 in a 401(k) is equal to your spouse’s $250,000 in a PERS Tier II account (in fact, the PERS account is probably worth at least twice that much!). When you are divorcing later in life, you must take retirement plans into account.

If you and your spouse have several different retirement plans between you, you should get a QDRO attorney, financial planner, or other professional experienced in dividing retirement accounts involved as early as possible. There are two prevailing methods for dividing retirement accounts (up front upon divorce and later in time upon retirement). Which method is best for you will depend upon whether the account is in your name or your spouse’s name, whether you hope to withdraw cash from the account when the division is final, and whether or not any of the accounts are already in pay out status.

5. Talk to an Estate Planner. Once your divorce is final, there are certain steps you must take in order to designate new beneficiaries to your estate. You will need to draft a new will and advance directive, and revoke any existing powers of attorney granted to your now former spouse. You will also need to contact your life insurance provider and other financial institutions to designate a new beneficiary.

These are just a few things you should consider when contemplating divorce after 50. In encourage you to contact an attorney to discuss the unique issues present in your dissolution case, and to help you transition out of your marriage and into a financially secure future.

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