Gray divorce is when a couple decides, after a long marriage of a decade or more, that they want to end their marriage. While it might sound uncommon, it’s actually occurring more often than you might think.
WHY DOES GRAY DIVORCE HAPPEN?
In 2010 one of every four divorces was among couples aged 50 and above, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. And in 1990 the over 50 group was actually more than twice as likely to be divorced. But why do couples split after 20+ years of marriage? Is there a big event that happens? Or do smaller things lead up to it? Let’s take a closer look at the reasons.
PEOPLE GROW APART
Just as with any divorce, and any relationship for that matter, there is always a chance for two people to just grow apart and become interested in other things. Or little things build up. According to author of Wired for Love Stan Tatkin says, “It’s like an unbreakable plate you drop repeatedly. The relationship develops microcracks inside the structure you can’t see. Then it finally reaches a critical mass and shatters.” There can be an undercurrent of dissatisfaction that evolves for many reasons. According to Tatkin, “Often one person — usually the woman — feels she’s given up too much. She may have put aside her career as she raised the children. She feels the wear and tear of the relationship because it wasn’t collaborative.”
AGE IS A FACTOR
Other times age is a factor. A big age difference that was not an issue at the beginning of a relationship may become a problem later in life, Tatkin says. Or people may hit middle-age and crave a reboot. As Tatkin explains, as people age they go through physiological and biological “brain upgrades.” This can happen at 15 and can happen at 40. It’s the whole reasoning behind a mid-life crisis. “Every time you experience one [of these brain upgrades] you want to go back [in time],” he says.
COUPLES ARE BORED
Steve Siebold, a psychological performance and mental toughness coach and author of 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class, believes that boredom can play a part in gray divorce. “Being around the same person 24/7, depending on the relationship, can lead to boredom,” he says. Additionally, people often just stop trying and become complacent. “You work hard, play hard and take care of business, but you’ve stopped being the attentive, attractive spouse. You’ve allowed yourself to become complacent.”
DIFFERENCES IN SPENDING HABITS
Money and finances are always a sticking point for married couples. Financial problems can be even greater when two spouses have different spending habits – like one is a saver and the other is a spender. According to Siebold, “The kids’ activities, expenses and college funds eat the family’s discretionary cash and you’re deep in debt.”
Any sexual incompatibility that might have existed throughout the time of the relationship can become more pronounced, says Jessica O’Reilly, author of The New Sex Bible. “Hormonal changes that arise with age can cause significant shifts in sex drive. And though every couple of every age experiences differentials in desire, these can become more pronounced with age.” Whatever your reason is for divorcing, you’ll want to know what the process is.
THE STEPS OF THE DIVORCE PROCESS
The steps required for a divorce will be completely dependent on the relationship. A marriage that was short, did not involve children, where the spouse did not acquire property or debt together will obviously require less sorting out than a marriage that lasted 26 years, where the spouses bought a house and had three children, as is quite common among gray divorces. Knowing this, if you are divorcing after a long marriage, chances are there will be a lot to figure out when it comes to dividing marital property and assets. Below is an overview of the divorce process. As is always advised, but especially advised for couples that will need to figure out a lot aspects of their marriage, you’ll want to work with a divorce attorney that can advise you on your divorce.
STARTING THE DIVORCE PROCESS
1. FILE PETITION
The first step in the divorce process is filing a petition. This must be done even if both spouses are okay with divorcing. One spouse must file a petition with the court to ask for a divorce. This petition states the grounds for divorce. In California, this is typically “irreconcilable differences.” Two types of divorce are available in California: Summary Dissolution and Regular Dissolution. Summary Dissolution provides an easier way to handle divorce, as it only requires a few forms. You do not have to appear before a judge either. It should be noted that Summary Dissolution is only available to those who have been married or registered domestic partners less than five years, have no children together, and have few assets and debts. This is most likely not the best option for those going through a gray divorce. Most likely, you will need to file for Regular Dissolution.
2. TEMPORARY ORDERS
If a spouse is dependent on the other for financial support or will have custody of the children, that spouse will need to ask the court for temporary orders for support and custody. A temporary order for these things is usually granted within a few days and remains in effect until a full court hearing. If the spouse seeking the temporary order is the same spouse that is filing the petition, they should file the temporary order at the same time. If the spouse seeking the temporary order did not file the petition, they need to file their request for the temporary order as soon as possible.
3. SERVICE OF PROCESS
The spouse that files the divorce petition will also need to proof of service of process. This is a document that proves a copy of the divorce petition was given and received by the other spouse. You can either work with a process server, or in most cases when you work with a divorce attorney, they handle this part of the process.
The spouse receiving the service of process needs to file a response to the petition. The responding spouse may want to dispute the alleged grounds for divorce. If there is disagreement regarding property division, support, custody, or any other issue, this should be set out in the response.
A QUICK NOTE ON PROPERTY DIVISION:
Property division is a big aspect of the agreement process of divorce, and one that will most likely affect those who are involved in a gray divorce. Major assets include: homes, furniture, artwork, jewelry, and appliances. Property is decided according to your state’s specific laws. This has the potential to be very litigious during a divorce, especially a divorce that follows many years of marriage. Separate Property: property that each spouse brings into the marriage. That spouse retains that after the marriage. This also includes property inherited by a spouse during the time of the marriage. Community Property: property acquired and income earned during the marriage. In the comment property states of Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, community property is usually divided 50-50. Remaining states use a property division principle called equitable distribution. With equitable distribution property is divided fairly (50-50). Occasionally the highis wage earner is given 60 percent to 75 percent of the property.
Spouses will need to negotiate their differences if there are any. This is when mediation or collaborative divorce processes work. If spouses still do not agree, they may need to go to trial.
If spouses cannot come to an agreement on any aspect of a divorce, they will need to go to trial where a divorce court judge will rule on the divorce agreement.
7. CREATION OF THE ORDER OF DISSOLUTION
The order of dissolution is a decree that officially ends the marriage and spells out how all aspects of a marriage, including: the property and debts, custody, support and any other issues are to be divided. Two spouses that are able to negotiate on their own are able to draft an order of dissolution and submit it to the court. If this complies with the set legal requirements and both parties entered into it knowingly and willingly, then a judge approves it.
WORKING WITH A DIVORCE ATTORNEY
If you are facing a divorce, you should work with a divorce attorney that can take a look at your specific situation and give you advice based on it, rather than approach it with a one size fits all mindset. Your specific situation will be particular to you and your marriage and the way your life was set up during the marriage. This might mean major financial decisions regarding retirement funds, property, child support and custody, and alimony. A divorce attorney will work with you to help you decide how you want to tackle these elements of your marriage and divorce, while also providing guidance and support. They will be able to lead you through the process while keeping you from procrastination and caving into pressure. They’ll also be able to help ensure you meet all the required timelines while ensuring that you get a fair case and trial should you need to go to court. Lastly, they’ll be able to help you find the freedom and new life you are seeking – one that is entirely on your terms.
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