Top issues for divorcing couples after a lengthy marriage

Couples that have been married for many years are increasingly getting divorced. There are many reasons for these so-called "gray divorces." The National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green University in Ohio recently studied the issue and found that a lack of communication plays a key role.

Drifting apart is actually a more common reason for divorce after 65 than a one-time event like having an affair, the study's lead author noted. In addition, many boomers are seeking comfortable retirements and expect active lifestyles even while single. Longer life spans mean more time to enjoy retirement as a single person.

Financial considerations

Because many baby boomers are empty-nesters, there may not be as many issues related to child custody and child support. However, years of asset accumulation and sharing finances can make asset distribution complex. There may be concerns about the marital home. Prized possessions need to be distributed. However, a priority for each spouse may be retirement accounts, life insurance and health insurance.

  • A "qualified domestic relation order" (QDRO) creates the right for an ex-spouse to receive all or a portion of the other's retirement benefits, including pension plans, 401(k)s, and IRAs. The retirement plan distribution will depend upon the circumstances of each case.
  • Most married couples have their spouse as a beneficiary - this should be changed as soon as possible. Similarly, estate plans should be updated to reflect the new situation.
  • Health care insurance is also a priority for many divorcing baby boomers. If one spouse has health coverage through the other spouse, he or she may be able to maintain that coverage even after the divorce is final under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). The company must employ at least 20 people in order for COBRA to apply.

Social Security benefits

Many divorced people believe that they no longer qualify for an ex's Social Security benefits. This is not necessarily true. If an ex-spouse was married for at least 10 years, is at the minimum age to receive benefits and his or her own work history would not provide for more benefits, an ex can receive 50 percent of the other's benefits. This raises to 100 percent of the benefit amount upon the death of the ex. If the ex-spouse receiving benefits marries again those benefits will end.

An attorney can help

A lengthy marriage can result in a complex divorce. Retirement planning is hard enough, and so people divorcing later in life need to protect their assets as much as possible. Those considering divorce later in life should contact an experienced family law attorney to discuss their options.