Gray Divorce 101 – A Guide To Divorce After A Long Marriage

Gray Divorce 101
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Alice and Jasper have been married for over 20 years. Alice is 54, Jasper is 57. And they’re in the process of divorcing. “I think most of our friends were rather shocked,” Alice says wryly. The couple has two children and shared a beautiful home in California. All in all, they seemed the very picture of a happy, stable family.

“We just weren’t compatible anymore,” Jasper explains. “We changed and grown apart, and gray divorce seemed like the right and healthiest path to go down. We did think about alternatives to gray divorce, like separating for a while. But then, a clean break seemed best.”

You’ve probably seen the term being bandied about and wondered, ‘what does grey divorce mean?’ Gray divorce refers to the phenomenon of (gray-haired) couples over 50 getting divorcing. It’s also known as ‘silver splitters’ or ‘diamond divorce.’ While it’s not exactly new, it has become more frequent in recent years and has given rise to various studies and deep dives.

With a little help from lawyer Tahini Bhushan, we delved into the reasons for gray divorce, along with friendly and practical tips on how to understand and navigate it better, if you’re planning or going through one yourself. What is gray divorce, and what does gray divorce mean for you? Read on.

What Is Gray Divorce?

Bill and Melinda Gates have become the poster elders of gray divorce since they decided to dissolve their marriage of 27 years at the ages of 65 and 56 respectively. With their divorce came a slew of stories and statistics that showed that while they’re one of the best-known examples of gray divorce, they’re not alone.

According to Pew Research, divorce rates among 50-somethings has doubled from 1990 to 2015. Another study shows that people over 50 were far more supportive of divorce in 2012 than they had been in 1994, showing a major shift in attitude towards dissolving a marriage.

So, in answer to ‘what does gray divorce mean’, it isn’t merely a phenomenon in isolation, but is rooted in a complex consortium of cultural and psychological changes taking place over several decades. There are gray divorce joys and gray divorce regrets, so it’s never a one-sided occurrence.

Common Reasons For Gray Divorce

As with any form of separation, personal dissatisfaction and unhappiness are often reasons for gray divorce. But, since in gray divorce, the couple is older, there is a longer life to uproot and rebuild, since more financial assets will come into play, there are other reasons to consider as well. So, if you’re wondering, ‘why are older couples divorcing?’ here are some reasons for gray divorce.

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Related Reading: Divorce At 50: How I Found A New Life, And Happiness

1. Empty nest

If your entire life and relationship revolved around your children, if every interaction, every family holiday was planned around them, it’s possible you’re at a loose end once they left the house.

The house is empty, too big for just the two of you. You realize you have very little to say to each other, that you no longer have very much in common. In fact, maybe you start to realize you fell out of love a long time ago, and never noticed because you had the kids.

The empty nest syndrome is one of the major reasons for grey divorce because it’s hard to look across the breakfast table at your spouse who is now a stranger to you, every single day.

2. Financial reasons

For women especially, divorce at any age could mean a sharp drop in finances, especially if they’re given up working. “In so many cases, the woman gives up working when the children come along,” Tahini says. “And therefore, she has to wait till she’s at a stage where she can afford to divorce her husband.

This also becomes the reason many couples look at alternatives to gray divorce, or even stick on to the marriage for longer. Money matters at any age, but the older you get, the more accustomed you are to a certain way of living, and the more comforts you need. Gray divorce alimony and other payouts can then become a huge expense. Alternatives to divorce start to look more and more attractive.

On the other hand, once the kids are grown, childcare isn’t as much of a concern once college expenses have been settled. Either way, financial reasons are a major factor in gray divorce.

3. Lack of physical intimacy

A drop in sex and sexual desire is common with age, but let’s not generalize – there’s enough and more 50-year-olds having sex and enjoying it. However, if there’s no intimacy whatsoever, it can ring the death knell for a marriage, especially if one partner’s sex drive is still up and running.

“After 50, marriage tends to be more about companionship than sex, at least in most cases I’ve seen,” says Tahini. “Having said that, infidelity can crop up for both parties and it can effectively become an open marriage. In fact, this could be one of the alternatives to gray divorce. They share children and they don’t want to damage the kid’s mental health so they play at being a happy family.”

Adultery isn’t the only reason for the breakdown of marriage, mind you, but it does mean that you’ve lost interest in your spouse and that’s been grounds for divorce at all ages. So, one response to ‘why are older couples divorcing’ could be a lack of physical intimacy.

4. Kids are grown

“There are marriages that are dead for all intent and purposes and are only waiting for the kids to turn 18,” says Tahini. “70% of gray divorce cases I’ve seen have taken place because the woman was fed up and only was waiting for the kids to grow up so she didn’t have to be a single mom and raise a child without the stigma of a broken home.”

Once the children have reached an age where there’s greater understanding and maturity, couples feel they can take the step of getting a divorce. “There are even cases where the kids have approached me and said they want a divorce for their parents. I’ve had sons approach me and say I want a divorce for my mother,” Tahini says.

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5. Retirement

Retired life means you’re spending a lot more time at home with each other than you have before. It also signals a major life change that not everyone is prepared to tackle.

“My husband, Paul, retired at 65, and I got to know him outside of the guy who went to work for 8 hours a day,” says Lena. “I realized I didn’t particularly know or like the guy I now had to spend all my time with. He didn’t take to retirement – he felt insecure about not being the breadwinner and was often bad-tempered. I didn’t want to deal with it.”

Managing retirement and/or managing a retired spouse can be a chore and also the final nail in the coffin of a marriage. In which case, it might be better to end the marriage before things get uglier. An insecure husband is tough to deal with every day, so make your choice carefully.

8 Tips To Survive A Gray Divorce

Whether your gray divorce comes as a shock or a relief, or even if you’re having grey divorce regrets already, to unravel a marriage and a shared life of so many years is always painful and messy. Add to this the fact that you’re older and probably don’t want to deal with all the paperwork, and it’s likely you could use a little help to navigate your gray divorce. Here are some tips to get you through it without losing your mind.

1. Have your legalities in place

“I was 52 when my husband had feelings for another woman. He eventually left me, and honestly, I was so shocked and dazed, I didn’t even know if the house was in both our names or only his. I couldn’t think about what I was entitled to in terms of grey divorce alimony,” says 60-year-old Jill.

Fortunately, she got herself a lawyer who made her sit down and face things. “No matter how acrimonious things are, we get the couple to sit down and figure things out,” says Tahini. “In a lot of cases, property is only in the husband’s name and he doesn’t want to give it up. If the wife hasn’t worked in a while, there’s also a sense of entitlement from the husband, as though she doesn’t really own anything because he paid for it all.”

You might not need to fight for solo or joint custody of the kids any longer, but be aware of your legal rights, get yourself a lawyer who’s in your corner and don’t let your grief blind you to everything else.

2. In a gray divorce, sort out your finances

Money matters even when a relationship is robust, and it certainly matters when you’re dissolving a marriage of so many years. “Sit down and figure out your assets clearly,” advises Tahini. “Draw up relevant paperwork and do the division as fairly as possible.”

Make a list of assets and investments, see what’s shared and what’s solely yours. It might also be a good idea to consult a financial planner and see what you can do to grow your income if you’re not getting gray divorce alimony. Ensure your health insurance is in place, the kids college fund is in place, and that you have enough for a place of your own in case you’re not getting the house.

Related Reading: How Money Issues Can Ruin Your Relationship

Trust us, once you know your finances are sorted out, you’ll be better able to heal and look at other things. Don’t bury your head in the sand when it comes to money matters, you deserve clarity and all the fact., and possibly some gray divorce alimony. Surviving a gray divorce might not be pretty, but it needs to be practical.

3. Find your community

“If you’re going through a gray divorce, you’re probably at an age where your parents are gone, or too old to offer much support. If you have siblings, that’s a support system, but they, too, will have their own lives. A strong, close-knit circle of friends, therefore, becomes vital,” Tahini says.

She adds, “Of the gray divorce cases I’ve seen, the women nearly always fall back on their female friends. I even know a group of divorced women who are looking at investing in apartments in the same building so they can retire together and be there for each other. And a lot women are exploring the option that friendship can and will eventually replace marriage as the primary relationship in their lives.”

A strong, loving support system is important to stay sane during a divorce. You’re undergoing enormous life changes and you’ll need people around you. Hopefully, you’ve built up a wonderful network of people who know you and will always have your back. Reach out to them and let them be there for you. Surviving a gray divorce, surviving any divorce, isn’t easy. You need friends, so don’t shut people out.

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4. Be honest with the kids

“Your kids might be all grown up and know all about divorce. And yes, maybe their mental health won’t be affected as much. But even if your marriage has been dead for many years, you still have to talk to the kids. After all, it’s still easier to convince a child that a marriage is over than to have a conversation with an 18-year-old,” says Tahini.

Follow the rule of never bad-mouthing your partner to your kids, but be honest with them. Tell them things aren’t working out, and that you need to find a different path for yourselves. Have the conversation together with your partner if possible. With grown-up kids, it’s also a little easier to explain that one or both of you will find a new partner at some point.

Related Reading: How To Talk To The Kids About Divorce

5. After a gray divorce, go back to work

It could be for financial reasons, or to get into a routine, or just to keep you busy. If you’ve retired, or been out of the workforce a long time, dipping your toe back in could be a big help and could help mitigate any gray divorce regrets.

“I used to be a full-time English teacher before we had kids, and then I quit. By the time I got divorced, I was 55. But I still loved telling stories and books were my passion. I started working part-time at my local library. I organized readings and small literary events and formed a book club. It was incredibly fulfilling and really gave me a sense of purpose,” says Suzanne.

You needn’t dive back into 40-hour weeks. In fact, you could even volunteer at a shelter if finances aren’t an issue. But work brings in routine and a sense of accomplishment, and hey, if you’re not worried about money, now you can work at what you love. Life after divorce needs to be vital and interesting, this could be one way to do it.

6. Learn to be alone

You’ve been a spouse and a parent for so many years, and now, it’s just you. Your friends and support system are there, but it is important that you learn to be on your own as well. You probably haven’t spent time with yourself in a while and it will get scary and lonely at times.

Learn to be alone

It’s tough to see yourself as separate from the roles of spouse, parent, family member etc., roles that you’ve occupied for so long. But after a gray divorce, spending time alone and learning to be comfortable with it is imperative.

Go for walks, travel solo, take yourself out on dates, even. This is a time to get to know yourself all over again. And guess what, you’ll have a lot of fun doing it!

7. Seek help

Professional help is always a good idea when major life changes are underway. Gray divorce definitely falls in this category, and there’s nothing better than an impartial ear to hear you out. Divorce counseling is where you can confess any insecurities you might be feeling, or confusion or loneliness.

“I don’t think men of my generation are too comfortable with therapy,” says 58-year-old Raul, ruefully. “But my daughter made me go see a therapist after my divorce, and I have to say, it’s really nice to have a safe space where I don’t have to smile or act brave. Plus, I got to figure out what does gray divorce mean for me, at age 58, and what could come next.”

There’s no hiding with a therapist, and that’s truly the best thing you can do for yourself right now. Even if the gray divorce was a long time coming, even if you feel like it’s a burden off your back, it’s a good idea to seek help and talk things over with a professional.

8. Moving on after a gray divorce

“I still find that it’s easier for a man to move on after a gray divorce,” says Tahini, “He might get a younger woman or be a sugar daddy, but it’s tougher for a single 50-something woman to find love and trust again.”

It’s true that divorce continues to come with stigma for women, especially if it comes at a certain age. But women, never lose heart! If you’re open to new love, there’s every chance it will come your way. But bear in mind that moving on isn’t only about finding a new relationship.

Related Reading: The Best Divorce Advice For Women

Maybe you’ll find companionship in solitude, or in a new project, or an old, comfortable group of friends. Maybe moving on, for you, looks like a quiet Sunday afternoon where you read and nap with no worries or thoughts of your ex. Or maybe it looks like you dying your hair purple and travelling to a new country. Maybe moving on is just you becoming you.

Gray divorce refers to the phenomenon of a changing trend where people believe it’s possible to start over at any age and any stage of life. Where it’s all right to say, ‘this isn’t working’ even if you’ve been together 20 years. From that perspective, it’s almost hopeful rather than depressing. So, save yourself those gray divorce regrets and focus on moving on.

We like a story where people in love remain in love forever. But if you are going through a gray divorce, here’s a reminder that there’s lots of life and love left for you still. Be realistic, be kind to yourself, and you’ll come through the gray divorce with flying colors.


How common is gray divorce?

Are you still wondering why are older couples divorcing? Well, gray divorce has become more frequent over the last few years, since people now believe it’s financially and emotionally possible to start over after the age of 50. Some even believe it’s a better choice to wait till the kids are grown and then file for divorce.

Can one avoid gray divorce? 

Like any separation, gray divorce can be avoided with good communication, keeping the spark alive and continuing to build trust. However, if love and compatibility have died out entirely, there’s no point in continuing a marriage that makes you unhappy. Surviving a gray divorce isn’t the easiest either, but it beats a miserable marriage in most cases.

What are the alternatives to gray divorce?

You could opt for a trial separation instead of pulling the plug entirely. Maybe give it three months and see how it goes. You could also opt for marriage counseling to try and resolve your issues. You could also try an open marriage, where your needs are met outside the marriage, but the marriage remains in name.

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