“Till death do us part.” Not necessarily, and not even at a time when many couples are decades into a marriage. After 27 years of marriage, at ages 65 and 57 respectively, Bill and Melinda Gates joined a growing surge in the divorce rate of people over age 50: quinquagenarians and older.

Though statistics reveal a decline for most demographics in the divorce rate over the past 20 years, the reverse is true for baby boomers who are ending their marriages at an unprecedented rate. In fact Pew Research Foundation data has found that the divorce rate after age 50 nearly doubled from 1990 to 2015, with some experts calling the escalation an epidemic.

Reasons for this disturbing trend include second, third, even fourth marriages—not uncommon in later years—having a lower success rate, and empty nesters acknowledging the glue that held the marriage together really was their children. Also, with more women earning an independent income, often with benefits, a long-standing obstacle to divorce has been removed.

Retirement—a time when the pressure is thought to be off—is another catalyst for late-stage divorce. A shift in lifestyle, including an increase in the amount of time a couple spends together, requires an adjustment and can cause friction. In the past, issues that may have escaped examination when one or both spouses were out working suddenly have nowhere to go. On another front, incompatibility in pursuing personal interests can also arise in the throes of retirement, throwing a marriage way off-kilter.

Interestingly, because we are living longer, some research reveals that couples claim the idea of having to spend 20, 30, or even 40 more years with someone they’ve considered incompatible for a long time is more than they want to handle.

Whatever the reasons, planning ahead when you realize forever is not in the cards can make the difference between serene, secure post-divorce years and those filled with stress and uncertainty.

What should older adults and seniors do to manage a separation or divorce?

For Betsey Baum*, 59, a Muncie, Indiana sales executive, list-making had enabled her to organize her professional and personal lives ever since her three children, now out of college and working, were born. When she and husband Jack decided to divorce last year, she made a list of priorities—things that would be essential to her as a newly-single person navigating what, in most ways, would be a whole new world to her.

These priorities included:

  • Economics

Knowing their assets would be halved, Betsey and her husband consulted their financial advisor to guide them through the implications of changes in marital status including pensions, and combined IRAs and 401(k)s. Paying, receiving, or waiving spousal support was also addressed. Continuing to prepare for the inevitable long-term care most of us will need was also high on the financial agenda, as was a deep dive into the prospect of selling their home and the tax implications of such, and the divorce impact on taxes overall. To leave no stone unturned, their advisor also brought in a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA): an expert in this area.

  • Divorce Attorney vs. Mediation vs. DIY Divorce

Betsey knew they needed to retain divorce lawyers though also consider mediation instead. A do-it-yourself or DIY divorce, though attractive from a financial standpoint, held little assurance that they’d be able to seamlessly agree on every point, and/or successfully navigate court rules and procedures, which had the potential of backfiring in the end. While mediation also offered considerable financial savings, in the end the attorney route made more sense to Betsey and Jack for their particular situation.

  • Health Insurance

Betsey’s company provided health insurance, with her husband on her plan, as the company for which he worked offered a less desirable plan at a higher cost. The divorce would give him the opportunity to continue his wife’s coverage for 36 months under COBRA, but it would come at a significantly higher cost than before the divorce. The couple needed to be aware of changes and options for Jack.

  • Life Insurance

The Baums each had life insurance policies, naming each other as primary beneficiary. Because the policies were revocable, they could change the names of any beneficiaries. If they were irrevocable, each beneficiary would have had to agree to forfeit their right to the money.


  • Family Relationships

A strong relationship with her three adult children—one of whom was now 2,500 miles away, working and married—was also part of Betsey’s emotional and financial plan, as she would be traveling to see him several times a year.

  • An Active Social Network

Maintaining a supportive and active social network may not immediately occur to couples anticipating divorce, but for mental health reasons it most definitely should. Other couples in one’s circle may sometimes view the impending divorce of people with whom they have been close as a red flag or threat to their own relationship, especially if there are problems. Should these friends drift away, while it is another form of loss, it is important to get out and cultivate new friendships, something Betsey knew she’d need to be proactive about doing when she and Jack announced they would be divorcing.


  • Sense of Purpose

Many of us question life and its meaning upon arriving at a milestone such as divorce. “Friends and acquaintances of mine had gotten divorced at various times,” Betsey says. “I was fortunate enough to learn from their experiences, especially that without children to raise and a spouse to care for, no matter how fulfilling your job may be to you, developing other interests that help balance your life is what makes you look forward to your life after a divorce, every single day.”


(*Name has been changed.) “Gray Divorce: 7 Things Seniors Can Do to Manage Separation,” written by Beth Herman, Amada blog contributor.