Huge rise in 'silver separation'

Marriage counselling or divorce lawyer for quarrelling coupleMore like this
Marriage counselling or divorce lawyer for quarrelling coupleMore like this

New figures on divorce from the Office for National Statistics have revealed a jump in the number of people getting divorcedover the age of 50. And while couples may feel that at this age they have the emotional maturity to deal with financial issues between themselves, there\\'s a real risk this will leave one of the couple much worse off.

Divorce in general has fallen again, down 2.9% to 114,720 in 2013. The figures among the over 50s were very different, and rose by almost 1,000 cases to 34,564.

Alison Hawes, family law partner at Irwin Mitchell, said: "The issue of so-called silver separation is now more common and acknowledged than ever before. We have seen a number of cases when people at this point in their life simply drift apart, often as a result of empty nest syndrome which emerges when children have grown up and left the family home."

She added that once children leave home, it shifts the dynamics of the relationship, and can unearth old animosities. She says: "With life expectancy rising, those in unhappy relationships may simply not be looking to spend another 20 or 30 years in their current situation."

As many as one in four older people decide to go through a divorce without help from a lawyer. They feel they have the maturity to be able to deal with tough discussions on their own. However, this opens up some real risks.

Hawes warns that later in life, couples are likely to have built up a number of assets between them, that need serious consideration. She explains: "Mature divorcees often face more complications including pensions, property and other assets, which makes it important to seek specialist advice as early as possible."

In many cases these assets will be in the name of one or other of the couple. One key one is the pension. In many instances men will have built up far more in their pension, and without specialist advice, women may not know they are entitled to some of the value in their pension - or how considerable that value may be.

The couple will need to build up a full picture of their assets going into the marriage, and those they have built up over the years. They may not want to go down the line of involving lots of expensive professionals in the process, but they may not have much choice about it, because valuing things like pensions, family businesses and debts is not always straightforward.

There may also be the question of spousal maintenance in couples where only one of the couple worked, and in some cases there is still the issue of child maintenance. While trusting one another is laudable, the experts warn that life can change further down the line, so it\\'s important to have a legally-enforceable agreement relating to any maintenance.

Limited time

Unlike younger couples, who can come to a compromise, and then spend the next few decades working hard in order to make up for the financial impact of the split, silver splitters have far less time to put things right.

Pensions are a particularly tricky issue, because financing a joint retirement is so much more affordable than financing two separate ones, and after a divorce one or both members of the couple can end up working well into their 70s to make ends meet. It means it\\'s even more important not to sell themselves short in the divorce.

Of course a cynic would argue that lawyers are bound to think we ought to spend our hard-earned cash on lawyer\\'s fees. They might point out that you don\\'t survive decades of marriage without learning to come to an agreement with your other half, and ask why a divorce should be any different.

The question is whether you know enough about your own financial circumstances and needs in order to make sure the agreement you come to is one you will be able to live with in the years to come.

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