The number of people divorcing in later life, often after decades of marriage, continues to rise. There has been steady increase among people aged 60 and over since the 1990s – while among the rest of the population, it has fallen (although it went up slightly in 2012).
Why is this – and should we be alarmed?
There are lots of reasons, and while it is always sad when couples who have shared much of their lives together go their separate ways, there are many positives to so- called silver divorces.
A question I ask clients who are in unhappy marriages is, “do you really want this miserable existence to continue for the next 20 years”? It strikes a chord with people in their 60s because there is every likelihood now that they and their spouse could live another two decades.
Longer life expectancy is a major factor in the rise of silver splitters. Life seems to begin at 60 these days, rather than 40: Children by that time are – or should be – independent and most people in reasonable health have both the time and the energy to start living life for themselves.
Many women who have devoted their adult lives to looking after their husband and children suddenly see the alluring possibility of looking after Number One for a change.
Couples who no longer have anything in common realise that “life is too short” to stay in a marriage with a person who has become a virtual stranger.
One irony is that older people can afford to divorce, while many younger couples would find it a financial hardship if they had to divide their assets.
The world has changed a lot in the last few decades: it is much easier now to be single, whatever your age. From singles holidays to retirement villages, there are many ways for older people to live alone, yet enjoy a full social life.
So much of life is about doing your duty and bowing to the wishes of others, and it’s easy to forget that we can, at a certain age, decide to do what we want. For an increasing number of older people, that means exiting a marriage that is past its sell-by date.
It takes courage and determination – and often a lot of family opposition – but from the older divorcees I have dealt with, the rewards are plentiful.
* Georgina Burrows is a Senior Associate with Benussi & Co