A gray divorce is a divorce between spouses over the age of 50 or 60, which has become more common in the United States in recent years. Younger couples are waiting longer to get married or not getting married, making the marriage rate decrease. However, divorce rates among older couples have increased.

Divorce is rarely easy for any couple, but a gray divorce brings additional challenges, financial complications, and emotional difficulties that are not present in every divorce. Couples who decide to get a gray divorce may be making the right choice for themselves and their future, but it’s essential to understand the potential consequences of obtaining a divorce after a long marriage.

Financial Impact of Gray Divorce

The biggest effect of a gray divorce is on a couple’s financial situation and stability.

  1. Property Division: Gray divorces tend to happen after a lengthy marriage. The longer a couple is married, the more significant the number of assets they have obtained, and the more complex and intermingled those assets likely are. Divorce has to account for retirement benefits, social assistance benefits, and shared healthcare. This can make the process of valuing marital and separate assets and dividing them more difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. There is also more stress involved in the division because neither spouse has as much time to gain assets after divorce as a younger couple. With more at stake, negotiations are more likely to become contentious.
  2. Retirement Benefits: In gray divorces, couples are closer to retirement or have already retired. There is greater stress placed on retirement accounts, savings, pensions, and Social Security benefits. When property, including retirement benefits, is divided by the court, it is split according to equitable distribution laws in Illinois. This may halve the benefits from retirement savings between spouses or distribute them equitably. This is true even if one spouse primarily contributed to the savings accounts, which can complicate divorce proceedings.
  3. Alimony: The goal of alimony is to provide each spouse with a similar standard of living as they enjoyed during the marriage. In Illinois, not all divorces result in one spouse being awarded alimony. It is more frequently awarded when one spouse gives up career and educational opportunities to care for a home. In gray divorces, couples may no longer be able to work, which can add complications when determining alimony payments and add financial instability for the paying party. In Illinois, divorces where couples have been married for more than 20 years have additional alimony rules. The payments may last for the length of the marriage or even indefinitely, depending on the court’s decision and your unique circumstances.

Emotional Effects of Gray Divorce

No divorce is easy emotionally, but gray divorces can be particularly devastating. Couples may have been married for years to decades, and separating from a partnership that has lasted that long is rarely easy. Spouses likely feel uncertain about their future, as they deal with the loss of a loved one and may suffer from an identity crisis after existing as part of a relationship for so long. The financial instability of a divorce can also increase uncertainty and emotional distress.

Additionally, separating from a spouse may impact the support network of each spouse. After a lengthy marriage, connections with friends and family members are often disrupted. This can worsen the emotional difficulties of divorce.


Q: What Should You Expect in a Gray Divorce?

A: Gray divorces have additional financial complications, as couples have gained significant assets and property during their marriage. This makes the division of property more complex and lengthy. It also requires both parties to do significant financial planning to care for themselves during their lives. Couples who are retired may be reliant on pensions or a fixed income, which can increase financial instability during a divorce. Gray divorces are also much more emotionally difficult, as spouses end a long marriage and lose some of their support networks.

Q: What Are the Problems With Gray Divorce?

A: One of the major complications of a gray divorce is financial instability. Divorce is expensive for any couple, and it cuts into each spouse’s income. Divorce will affect retirement benefits and other collected assets. However, older individuals have less time to make up for those losses, particularly if they are no longer able to enter the workforce. Additionally, gray divorces tend to involve marriages that have lasted decades. This means that spouses have adjusted to and relied on a shared income that they no longer have.

Q: Can a Gray Divorce Be Financially Devastating?

A: A gray divorce can be financially harmful, particularly if spouses are no longer in the workforce and unable to enter it. However, there are steps that spouses can take to limit the financial impact of a gray divorce. Frequently, spouses will want to resolve a divorce and move on, without fighting for the financial support and assets they deserve from the divorce. Women in gray divorces are much more likely to see a decrease in their standard of living. Working with a divorce attorney with experience in gray divorces can help spouses defend their interests in marital property and, hopefully, secure greater financial stability after divorce.

Q: Why Do People Get a Gray Divorce?

A: There are several reasons why gray divorce rates are increasing, beyond common reasons for divorce. Some reasons include:

  1. Increased Life Expectancy: Spouses become aware that they have more time to pursue other parts of life or that they don’t wish to stick around in an unhappy marriage.
  2. Changing Expectations: The changing roles of women in marriage has led to gray divorces, as more women earn their own financial independence, find fulfillment in more avenues of their life, and determine that they do not want to rely on a spouse. Divorce is also less stigmatized.
  3. Empty Nest: Some couples wish to divorce but remain together to provide for their children. When children have moved out, spouses may decide to get a gray divorce.

Defending Your Financial Interests During Divorce

The most effective way to protect your financial interests and personal rights during a gray divorce is to work with an experienced family law divorce attorney. The attorneys at Stange Law Firm can listen to your unique circumstances and help you determine what options are available for you and your spouse. An attorney can look out for your financial interests and future stability while determining if alternate forms of separation, such as legal separation, may benefit you and your spouse more than divorce. Contact Stange Law Firm today for help with your gray divorce.