4 things to know when divorcing in senior years

For many couples, “Till death do us part” is no longer uttered with the same zest that it was in the past. Divorce has become an integrated part of society, an occurrence so common that it no longer deserves the hushed tones of years past. However, if you’re one of the growing number of people age 50 or older who decide to call it quits on matrimony, you’ll likely face a whole slew of challenges unique to your demographic. Here are four issues you need to keep in mind if divorce becomes part of your retirement plan.

Money often becomes a struggle

Older couples find it more challenging to compensate for the money lost during a divorce. Most likely, retirement funds and other assets will be split evenly during the proceedings. Alimony is harder to come by, so spouses who stayed home with the children aren’t able to count on that extra money as they did in generations past. Some people offer more of their pension to thwart having to pay alimony as well. For those couples married more than ten years, however, there is good news: You may qualify for spousal Social Security benefits.

Get a prenuptial agreement if ready to say, “I do” again

Remarriages are more likely to end in divorce than first marriages, thereby underscoring the importance of a prenuptial agreement. The first divorce took your retirement savings and split them in half; the second (or later) divorce will do the same, leaving you with even less money.

Consider health care

After a divorce, you aren’t able to stay on your ex’s insurance plan. You also aren’t able to utilize Medicare until the age of 65. Without the support system you once counted on, it’s more important to obtain long-term care insurance in case you need assistance with living.

Even adult children are a consideration

Even if you aren’t contending with parenting plans and custody arrangements, there are considerations to be made with regards to older children. Unless a child has a disability or is in school, support for adult children isn’t often written into divorce decrees. Nonetheless, your children may have come to expect a certain level of financial support that you’ll have to reconsider. There are also emotional reactions. Adult children may not want parents to divorce or to date again.

Divorce is rarely easy and it can be complicated by all sorts of issues. While separating in your “golden years” can be challenging, you fortunately have years of wisdom behind you to navigate the obstacles.

Help! I’m getting a divorce and I’m broke

Divorce and financial challenges go hand-in-hand for many people. Money is frequently cited as a leading cause of divorce, and when that divorce occurs, people find themselves with one income to pay their bills, rather than two. For many, it’s not simply losing the house they love that’s at issue… it’s losing their lifestyle and possibly ending up over their heads in debt.

What steps should you take to protect your finances during divorce? Here are six things to consider.

1. Gather your financial information

Gather all of your financial documents and any of your spouse’s financial documents, including bank account and retirement account information, insurance policies, credit reports, income tax returns and others. Inventory all of your assets and debts so you know how money is being spent now and how much you have as a couple. Pay attention to how both you and your spouse are spending money. Once the divorce is filed, you will not be able to transfer, conceal or dispose of any of your property beyond your normal use.

This financial information will be vital for you and your attorneys to have at hand as you work through property division. You do not want to find out later that your spouse had more in assets than you believed him or her to have. Understand that you may end up sharing some of the accounts in one name only, such as retirement accounts.

2. Open your own accounts

If you only have joint accounts, now is the time to open a checking and savings account in your name. You may also want to apply for a separate credit card.

Start thinking about how you will manage money on your own. Set a budget that works on your salary, and consider what you need to be financially stable. You may wish to see a financial planner.

3. Plan what to do with your home

You and your spouse will need to continue to make payments on your mortgage during your divorce. Discuss whether one of you can keep the home. If one person will stay in the home, the other person will need to be reimbursed, as part of the property settlement, for his or her share. If neither party can keep the home, you will need to sell it and divide the proceeds during your divorce.

4. Avoid a costly courtroom fight

You and your spouse are going to have disagreements during your divorce — that’s the simple truth. Spending years and thousands of dollars fighting in court is not going to make you feel any better or help you move on with your life. As attorneys, we have seen people spend thousands of dollars fighting over property worth mere hundreds. At a time when finances matter, it is important to take a step back, put your emotions aside, and consider your options.

Your divorce does not have to be a courtroom battle. There are other choices — such as mediation — that are much less expensive and quicker. In mediation, a third party neutral (the mediator) will work with you, your spouse and your attorneys to help you come to agreements. You may never need to go to court.

5. If you face overwhelming debt, consider bankruptcy

For those facing burdensome debt, bankruptcy may be a good option to get a fresh financial start. Do not fear bankruptcy — it is not a declaration of failure, but a chance to start anew. Speak with an attorney about your options for filing. Choosing when to file is important. Options include:

  • Filing for bankruptcy prior to filing for divorce: By filing a joint bankruptcy with your spouse before divorce, you may save money. You will need to only file one petition together, not two separate petitions. That means one filing fee and one lawyer. Furthermore, by filing before divorce, you will be able to erase much of your marital debt and will not need to divide that debt during your divorce.
  • Filing for divorce prior to filing for bankruptcy: There are times when the divorce simply cannot wait. The average Chapter 7 bankruptcy takes three to four months. You may need to file your divorce sooner for court-ordered child support or custody. Furthermore, you may not qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on your dual income. Waiting until you have only one income may make it possible for you to successfully file for Chapter 7.

6. Talk to a lawyer

If you are divorcing and are concerned about your finances, you may have decided to skip hiring an attorney and try your divorce “on your own.” Unless you are sure you and your spouse will easily agree on all of the issues, this could be a dangerous choice. You may end up losing more of the financial battle, particularly if your spouse has a lawyer. Instead, speak with an attorney to learn your options. A lawyer can help guide you through the process, protect your financial interests and refer you to financial resources.

Consider This

  1. How can you tell when a lawyer is lying? You can see his lips moving.
  2. What’s the difference between a leech and a lawyer? The leech stops sucking your blood and drops off once you’re dead.
  3. Satan stopped at a lawyer’s office to make him an offer. “I agree to quadruple your income while you only have to work six months a year. In addition, I agree that you will live a healthy, happy and active life until your death at 100 years old. In return, I require the souls of your wife, children, and grandchildren” explained Satan. After reflecting on this offer for a few moments, the lawyer looked up at Satan and asked “What’s the catch?”

A couple of years ago, my daughter gave me a “Lawyer Jokes” book for Christmas. Over the weekend, I finally got around to leafing through it. Negative opinions on the work lawyers do and on their honesty have been around for centuries. And funny lawyer jokes are, for the most part, funny because they contain an element of truth. This got me thinking about the lawyers I’ve known over the years, whether as acquaintances, adversaries or allies.

As a group, the lawyers I’ve known and dealt with are honest and decent human beings. They try to do right by their clients. Having said that, there are those (a distinct minority) that I’d just as soon not have to deal with. As in any large group, there are certain individuals within that group that are less trustworthy than others.

On the other hand, there are attorneys that I have known who are more than just “decent human beings”. They readily share their knowledge with colleagues when asked and their top priority is serving their clients, even though these traits do not necessarily maximize their income. Over the years, these lawyers have been more than willing to share with me their opinions and expertise which, I believe, has made me a better and more efficient lawyer. And, more than just getting a job done for a client, these lawyers craft solutions (or at least try) for their clients’ problems or issues while balancing optimizing results and minimizing expense.

So, even though there is an element of truth in some of the “Lawyer Jokes”, realize that every lawyer is an individual and that the vast majority are trying to represent their clients to the best of their ability.

New Year’s Relationship Resolution

The freshness and hope of the New Year causes many to make resolutions, most commonly about money and exercise. By mid-January the best-laid plans often crumble into old habits and that new gym membership, which has increased our expenses, may not get the use intended. The outcome is increased frustration.

The problem is the expectation of perfection, which is especially troubling when we have those expectations in our relationships. Whether we are connected as a spouse, parent, child, sibling, friend, or colleague, we crave the many positive aspects of a relationship. We may expect those positive aspects without the regular nurturing required. We get tired and frustrated. Often it is easier to see the faults in another rather than in ourselves.

Family law attorneys see people at the height of relationship exhaustion and frustration. Words may have been spoken which cannot be unheard. Unthinkable acts may have occurred. If a marriage is involved, the relationship may be “irretrievably broken” (Minnesota’s legal standard to dissolve a marital relationship).

To most, the damage to that relationship alone is overwhelming, but it is by far not the only relationship damaged by the conflict. If children are involved, they are impacted. The extent of the damage depends in great part on how the adults handle the conflict. Mental health professionals tell us that the extent of the conflict is a major factor in how children fare after a major family change.

Family and friends are also impacted. They may not understand why the relationship is ending. They may be sad or angry. They may feel that they are helping by intensifying the conflict and setting unrealistic expectations for case resolution. While family law attorneys can assist in resolving the legal conflict and recommend resources to assist with the crisis, perhaps we can also share ideas that may help foster healthier relationships before a crisis develops.

A basic premise is that domestic abuse is never tolerable and personal safety must be attained. Absent abuse, we can and should be more objective about our role in our various relationships. Nearly every individual, no matter how well-spoken, can improve relationship communications. We all can learn to listen more and disagree without arguing. We can see the irony in that the things that bring couples together often are the same things that tear them apart. We can learn to look not only at the immediate circumstances when contemplating a major life change, but at the future and envision how it may impact our children.

If a legal process is inevitable, encourage your loved ones. Thank them for supporting you and your family law attorney in navigating the legal issues. Be the person that you want your children to see. Character is reflected in our response to life’s challenges. Resolve to respond with grace and dignity.