For whatever reason, people seem to be getting divorced at a higher rates into their 50s and even later. I’ve not conducted any scientific studies on this subject but from my personal experiences as a family law attorney as well as from what I’ve read online, divorces are not uncommon for older Americans. We have come to call divorces for people in this age group as “grey divorce.”
As we age, our station in life changes. When we are younger adults who are married, odds are good that we are primarily concerned with our children if we get divorced. As we age, our concern can still lie primarily with our kids but by middle age our finances begin to creep up the priorities list. You’ve been working for an extended period of time and have hopefully been able to put some money away for retirement, college savings for your kids or just some money for fun.
The prospect of getting a divorce at a more advanced age means that all of this investing, savings and other financial issues become more important issues to you and your spouse. You want to protect the things that you have worked hard to build and the thought of a divorce dashing all that planning can be very disconcerting.
Add onto all of this the fact that you may not be as well versed in your family’s finances as your spouse. Suppose that you and your spouse had a division of labor whereby your husband earned all the income, paid all the bills and handled all of the investments. If you file for divorce from him the concern would be that he holds all the cards when it comes to your investments and finances. If you don’t even know how to log into the website for your retirement accounts, how can you possibly be expected to protect what is rightfully yours?
If you are not up to speed on your martial finances there is no better time to play catch up than right now. It is not too late to learn some helpful information about how to access, analyze and then negotiate based on your family financial knowledge. However, the time to learn what you need to know is now. You cannot put this off any longer than you already have. The more time that you lose the less of an opportunity you will have to properly assess your financial state.
Do your best to look at your situation objectively
It will be difficult, but you need to do everything that you can to keep your emotions in proper perspective while performing an analysis of your financial life during a divorce. I realize that this is going to be difficult. After all, it’s called personal finances for a reason. It is exceedingly difficult to completely separate your heart and your brain. Couple that with all of the other stresses that you are going through and it is going to be a difficult job for you to take on.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t do as much as you can to prepare yourself mentally for the task at hand. If you are looking at your family finances from the perspective of the distraught husband/wife there is no way that you will be able to approach this subject with any degree of objectivity. Everything that you look to will be colored in that way. How can you avoid this potentially significant issue in your divorce?
I’ve found that if you begin to develop some goals for yourself that you will be in a better position to be able to analyze your finances in a divorce. If you have never considered the importance of the finances for your family now is the best possible time to do so. Begin by learning what you have in place for retirement, how much of that you are entitled to in the divorce and what you will need to do after the divorce to secure your own financial future.
Next, I would recommend that you take a hard look at what you and your spouse have saved for your child’s college tuition. With college tuition costs rising a significant amount each year, you need to start to save now if you can. This may be very difficult to nearly impossible due to the costs associated with your divorce. If you are able to save for college after and even during the divorce that is great. If not, you and your spouse should sit your child down to explain how saving for college will work.
Your child may need to work if he or she is old enough. I know that I worked to pay for a part of my schooling as did many of my friends. It is not unheard of, and you are not doing anything wrong to have your children contribute to their college educational costs. Having your child know early on that he or she will be attending a college that is in your price range is another important step that you can take. With student loans truly becoming a crisis, you and your spouse should consider if that is something that you want your children to avoid.
Be intentional about these issues You cannot go back in time and change the decisions that you make now. If you fail to make any decisions regarding these subjects, you cannot make up for lost time as far as money that you failed to invest. Time truly is money when it comes to finances and investing. You will be better off to learn as much as you can about your investments during the divorce so that you can also guide your attorney to negotiate on your behalf in a way that will help you to accomplish your goals.
You do not need to be a financial expert to negotiate in a divorce
As you can already tell, there are many parts that go into your personal finances. All of them are negotiable during a divorce. The key for you will be to learn about each area and to understand what you need to do to secure that area of your life now and into the future. There is no need for you to spend all day and all night learning about finances. You will have enough to concern yourself with during the divorce. However, you do need to take an interest in this subject and learn as much as you can.
Fortunately, what you need to learn is not overly difficult and is overall pretty straightforward. Even if you have never looked into your family’s finances or taken a class on the subject you can take care of everything in relation to your divorce just by picking up tips here and there. Most of all, you need to be intentional when it comes to the decisions that you make. Drifting through the process without any concern is not a good plan.
The decisions that you make or do not make in your divorce have consequences that are far reaching. Do not assume that the decisions you make in conjunction with your divorce can be reversed immediately after the case. In fact, most decisions regarding finances in a divorce cannot be modified by future order of the court. A lot of times what makes sense to you during the divorce will seem nonsensical after the divorce. The reason for this is that you are going through a stressful time in your life and may not have your wits about you. What can you do to overcome this potential problem?
A good thing to do is to rely on the experience of your attorney. He or she will not be your best friend and will not know you better than a relative. However, he or she will have had clients in similar situations as you are in and can therefore guide you quite well on how to proceed. If you can start to process what has worked for other people and what has not worked you will feel more confident in your own decision making. If nothing else, this will also help you to make better decisions in your divorce when it comes to finances.
Another helpful hint that I can share with you is to have someone in your corner who knows you well that can help you sort through issues that are personal to you. That person will know your situation on a “boots on the ground level” that your attorney will not. If you can find a sweet spot where you can rely on your attorney’s advice and receive clear headed perspective from a close friend or relative, you will be better off than most in your divorce.
An example of a situation that should be avoided in your divorce
Suppose that you are in your early 50s and have a couple of children in their teens. Unfortunately, you and your husband are going through a divorce. In your divorce, your husband has conceded that you will be named as the party who will have primary custody of your kids in the divorce. This means that the kids will live with you during the school week and their dad will have visitation with them on the weekends and during holidays. You will also be able collect child support.
However, the child support (and a small amount of spousal maintenance for the first few years of your divorced life) will be all the income you have for the near future. You will be venturing out into the world in search of your first job in more than fifteen years as a result of your divorce. With little income coming in you should be focusing on the essentials in life for you and your kids, right?
I would answer that question with a firm, “Yes.” So, if the offer comes up from your husband for you to keep your house (and it’s mortgage) after the divorce that is likely an offer that you should not accept. It’s not that the house has anything wrong with it. It’s not that eventually you won’t find a job and your own income. It’s not that your kids don’t need the stability of remaining in their family home.
What is going on is that your kids don’t need to live in a house that their mother cannot afford the payments on. The emotions of your case have likely led to you trying to do whatever you can to cling to normalcy as much as possible. Nothing could be more normal than you and your kids staying in the family home after the divorce. With so much changing, at least where you lay your heads at night would not have to.
With that said, if you do not have any money in savings and cannot afford the monthly mortgage payment, it would be foolish for you to accept an offer to remain in the house even if it feels like the right thing to do. This is a perfect instance to rely on your attorney and on the perspective of your close friends and relatives to help you avoid a situation that could lead to bad things financially. You have options in the divorce. There is never just one path that you can take. Take a step back from the negotiating table, think about where you are now and where you want to be in five years. If you cannot honestly say that you can afford this home, you should seek shelter elsewhere.
More financial tips for grey divorces will be posted tomorrow
If today’s subject matter has been of interest to you, please consider stopping by tomorrow as we will continue to discuss how to approach a divorce if you are in your fifties or beyond.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about the material that we covered today please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity to learn more about family law and receive direct feedback about your specific circumstances.