Divorce after fifty

by Peter Magee on September 15, 2010

Peter Magee
After 40 years of marriage, former US Vice President, Al Gore, has separated from his wife, Tipper.  Al Gore is aged 62 and his wife 61 years.  They have four adult children.

This highly public “Baby Boomer’ separation has led to a flurry of comments in the US about the unique issues facing older couples when they separate.  While the precise issues in America are likely to be different to those in Australia, due to differences in family, tax and social security laws, it remains the case that “divorce after 50” does raise unique and difficult issues, wherever the couple might have been living.

Often there has only been one primary breadwinner and, therefore, one person’s superannuation was intended to support both people through retirement.  Often a “Boomer” wife may not have worked outside the home since the (now adult) children were born.  If retirement age has not yet been reached or if there aren’t sufficient retirement funds to properly support both people, she might be faced with the overwhelming prospect of having to try to re-enter the workforce after many years as a homemaker.  There may also be issues for both the husband and wife about re-creating a social life and a network of friends as a newly single person, because divorce has the potential to be very isolating for an older person, particularly if it comes after a 30 or 40+ year marriage.

Indeed, the Australian Institute of Family Studies has recently issued a research paper entitled Divorce and the Wellbeing of Older Australians. The researchers found that divorce has a longlasting, negative impact on wellbeing, which persists into later life.  The negative effects are most pronounced for those divorced people who remain single and do not re-partner.  Furthermore, older women were found to suffer more negative physical and mental health and life satisfaction consequences as a result of divorcing and remaining single than their former male partners.

For all these reasons, not only does a divorcing older person need excellent legal representation, they are also likely to benefit from the combined expertise of a team of professional advisers, including a family lawyer, a financial adviser and a counsellor/psychologist.

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