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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,932
August 30, 2018
Gray Divorce
By Mike McManus

At a time when the national divorce rate is dropping, it has doubled for those over age 50, in what is known as "gray divorce," and tripled for those over 65.

Why? First, their children are now adults and one parent decides he/she no longer want to be married to someone they no longer like or have anything in common with.

However, gray divorce poses seven major dangers:

  1. Economic: People may have to live on half the income they'd expected to have, and may face pricey lawyers charging $50,000 to $200,000 to dissolve the marriage. They also have fewer working years to make up the loss. They are likely to run out of money before they run out of lifetime.
  2. Remarriages less stable: The divorce rate for adults aged 50+ in remarriages is double the rate of those married only once. Among those over 50 who divorced in 2015, 48% were in their second or later marriages.
  3. Health issues are likely: One divorced woman who said she was "healthy as a horse" - became sick and was partially disabled. She could no longer work, and was not old enough for Medicare.
  4. Women are very vulnerable: If they have taken time away from paid work to be stay-at-home Moms, women are at deep risk financially. Men have higher incomes and more continuous work histories and are much better positioned to weather the financial storms of divorce. Researchers report that 27% of gray divorced women are in poverty vs. only 11% of divorced men. Women's retirements last longer and cost more than men's. However, women have typically earned and saved much less toward retirement than men. Yet two-thirds of gray divorces are filed by women! Why? It's a big mistake.
  5. Few savings: More than half of all workers have less than $25,000 in household savings and investments. "Once women wind up older and alone, whether it's widowed, divorced or never married, they're at a fairly high rate of poverty..." says Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
  6. Taxpayers face big bills: With the oldest of the 78 million boomers turning 85 in 2031, the government's tab could be staggering. In 2021, Medicare alone is expected to cost taxpayers $1.1 trillion - up from $586 billion in 2012.
  7. Loneliness is the most negative result of gray divorce: Elders hated "being alone," and were "afraid of being alone the rest of my life."

Why is there so much gray divorce? "Freedom." As one elder put it, "I have the freedom to do anything I like. No one to tell me what I can or cannot do. Not having to answer to anyone else, being able to do what I want, when I want and being in control of my finances. Being able to have whatever adventures I want, when I want, just because I want."

Many divorced men do remarry. However, remarriage for either ex can be murky territory. "If you acquire a stepson when you're 60, will he help you when you are old?" asks Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University. "We are creating complex family relationships where we're related to more people but obligated to fewer." In fact, the divorce rate for second marriages is high - 67%, and 73% for third marriages.

Divorced women are less likely to remarry, but they often have other options. Ellen Rittberg, 60, of Long Island, N.Y. moved to her mother's home to save money. A year later, her mom broke her pelvis. Her daughter decided to stay. Now they care for each other. "It is mutual love and companionship," says the mother of three and grandmother of two. "I went from being embarrassed that I was living with my mother to feeling so lucky we're close and that I can do this."

However, half of America's marriages have failed for four decades. My wife and I lead a "Marriage Savers" ministry that has helped thousands of churches in 230 cities to do a better job preparing couples for a lifelong marriage, enriching existing ones, and saving those in crisis. Citywide divorce rates have fallen by 17.5% on average, according to an independent study, and some cities (Austin, Kansas City, El Paso) have slashed divorce rates in half or better - saving 100,000 marriages from divorce.

For example, couples whose own marriages once nearly failed - can be trained to mentor gray marriages in crisis, and save 80% of them!

To learn more, write me in care of this newspaper.

Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.

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