Gray divorce is most often initiated by women — even though it can crush their finances 

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Despite the risk of taking a hefty financial hit, more older women than men initiate divorce, often finding they weigh happiness and independence over money.

Women initiate divorce at age 50 and older – also known as gray divorce — in 66% of cases, according to research by AARP.

“We’re seeing more women choosing to get divorced later. In the majority of cases, women are driving the divorce decision,” said Susan Hirshman, director of wealth management for Schwab Wealth Advisory and the Schwab Center for Financial Research. 

“A lot of it has to do with independence and feeling financially secure. It’s not like the stereotype of other generations when the woman was financially dependent on the man and had no choice but to stay,” Hirshman said.

In addition to women initiating a divorce later in life more often, fewer widows remain compared with widowers, according to Renee Hanson, a private wealth adviser with Ameriprise Financial.

“Finances are not as important as happiness,” Hanson said. “They say, ‘I have a new level of financial status that I’m willing to accept in order to be happy.’ Women are becoming more educated with finances than ever before. They’re also making changes to maintain a quality of life that supports their level of happiness.”

Waiting until the children leave the home is one reason for delaying divorce until later in life, AARP found. Ultimately, the top reasons for divorce include verbal, emotional or physical abuse; differences in values and lifestyles; cheating; and alcohol or drug abuse, according to AARP.

Older women who experience a divorce see their standard of living decline by 45%. That’s much more severe than for men, who see a decline of 21%, according to the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. 

After a gray divorce, 27% of women live below the federal poverty guidelines, compared with 14% of men, the center said.

Regardless of who initiates the divorce, there are some issues to be aware of.

If you’re considering a divorce at any age, have a clear understanding of the cost of living and how the division of income will affect your budget, Hanson said.

Derek Pszenny, co-founder of Carolina Wealth Management, warns that the standard of living will decline for both spouses due to the cost of maintaining two separate homes rather than one.

“Money doesn’t go as far for two households as it did for one. It’s something people need to get used to,” Pszenny said.

It may require you to work longer or return to work or get training for a new career, Hanson said. But for those getting a divorce in their later years, it may not be possible to return to work.

Hanson recommends hiring a certified divorce financial analyst or CDFA, who is specifically trained to avoid the pitfalls of divorce. 

“Women are more likely than men to reach out to an outside expert,” Hanson said. “Women are very comfortable asking for outside advice. Women are comfortable with the vulnerability to get the understanding they need.”

The financial analyst should be part of a team of coaches that includes a divorce attorney and a counselor.

“Hire the advisers you need. Remember your attorney is not your counselor and not your financial adviser — have those people specially dedicated to your needs,” Hanson said.

Pszenny also urged those getting a divorce to update their estate planning documents, such as wills and powers of attorney and account beneficiaries to reflect their new marital status. 

“For many, this falls through the cracks,” Pszenny said. 

Women often want to maintain the family home for sentimental reasons, Hanson said. However, the family home needs to be looked at as an asset that has value.

“Keep the emotional part of the heart and set it aside for the financial decisions,” Hanson said.

Also, beware of fighting over nostalgic belongings that may have limited value, Pszenny said.

“People spend a lot of legal fees fighting over something just because they don’t want the other person to have it or because it’s sentimental,” Pszenny said. “Divorce is a business decision. Get the emotions out of it and get down to the business of getting divorced.”


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