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Divorce is falling, except for silver splitters

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October 22, 2021

Yesterday’s divorce statistics show that the number of over 55s getting divorced continues to rise, bucking an apparent trend to stay married for younger couples. I wrote about the drop in figures in my post yesterday speculating that, as our firm has seen an increase in divorcing clients across the country, the small percentage drop in the stats is more likely attributable to those couples who cannot afford legal advice and would have been covered previously by legal aid in some form or another and they’re stuck.

My argument was supported by the fact that over 55s are clearly getting divorced in increasing numbers. They are the people with means who can afford to leave.

So why the rise for them?

Firstly, the general reasons that affect us all and I think have really led to a rise in numbers across the board: the recession; financial struggles; the impact of years living together in relationships that might ultimately be irreversible. They all contribute to a marriage breaking down over time. But over 55s have pensions and savings which younger couples generally don’t in as much abundance. So it’s easier.

But what fascinates me is why, after so many years being together, do they bother?

I think there are plenty of answers. For some, probably the majority, loneliness in retirement is the last thing they want. But for others, solitude after a hectic lifetime of looking after a family and perhaps the most childish spouse of all is just what they want. With children gone, duty is done and so are they.

Some may have formed relationships that, once the children are finally off their hands, they can no longer deny. They want a few more years at least with the other person. It might have been clandestine and now they feel it’s time to come into the open. But not always. I’ve known many people for whom divorce is ruled out by those who make it clear they will tolerate the “other” (same sex or opposite sex, I’ve come across both) because their spouse has made it clear the extra marital relationship is non-negotiable. So it’s take it or leave it and, as one very unhappy wife once told me, she’d rather have a husband some of the time than none at all. So she puts up with sharing him.

As you get older, health will at some point fail, life will change. But I don’t think that’s how silver splitters see it. Some are simply desperate to leave in order to start a new life with their capital cushion and income, seeing a future with hope and potential rather than continue the “same-old, same-old” predictability of their spouse. And with children gone they think they would find the routine intolerable.

But a new relationship doesn’t always work. In fact, the chances are a second marriage is more likely to break down than the first. And because the parties are older, a pay-out may be greater because lifetime provision usually has to be made to meet reasonable needs even though the marriage might have been short. There are plenty of mature, otherwise intelligent clients who have literally been seduced and they get a real shock when they realise they’ve been “had” and that financial security was all their previously adoring spouse was after.  So pre-nups and wills should be carefully agreed and made. Even if the intention is only to live together it can cause problems when one party dies and there is a mess to clear up between bereaved partner and children of the deceased. Or worse still the never divorced wife. Legal advice is necessary even if the imagination is only currently stretching to roses round the door of a country cottage and red hot sex inside. Perhaps if in doubt, stick to that trusty old saying: “don’t ever marry anyone not as rich as you”. It does make sense. And if you don’t, the seducer/seductress won’t change their behaviour towards you so long as there is a tantalising prospect of a marriage certificate.

Assume there isn’t the thrill of a new future. Just gloom and doom stretching ahead. Let’s think about that empty nest feeling. How do you cope with that? Some do and some don’t.

I remember when my son left home for university. Off he went, promising to bring his washing home every week. I had no doubt about that but when I went in his bedroom his teddy bear was still there. Propped up on the bed. Oh woe was me! Gone were the mad days of trying to get him to school and me into work. The race round Leeds to drop him off and pick him up again when he was still very young. The homework. The sheer hard slog of being a working wife and mother. Someone else’s lawyer. Running my own office. Suddenly, as if in a flash, time had passed by and now our house seemed completely empty. It’s amazing how much mess one teenager can make just by being there. I felt bereft. Even our dogs were mournful.

I saw a new client that same week. She told me her youngest daughter had also left home to start university and she was now putting her plan into action. She was making a new start by escaping a man who in her opinion was the most selfish of husbands. He had done things his way all their married life but this time it was going to be her way. She had planned it all for years, gritted her teeth and got on with it, waiting for that day she could leave without worrying about her children. She wanted a negotiated divorce settlement and had no intention of taking any more than straight split even though he earned more and it was far from certain he’d give full disclosure. She didn’t care. Life was going to move on and she wasn’t going to look back.

I wonder how she fared. Time has passed for me too and my boy is an up-and-coming high flyer in London. And I’ve got used to a new routine which is now focused on a different type of lifestyle, more relaxed less frantic and having a beautifully neat and tidy home. Now whenever my son comes home for his usual flying visit he wrecks the house in minutes, with bags and clothes dropped everywhere, the fridge emptied, water bottles left half-drunk anywhere in the house, towels all over the bathroom floor and the dogs going mad… I like having him home, of course, but I’m sorry to confess: what a sigh of relief there is when he’s off again.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. JamesB says:

    re some of the time than none at all for the wife not divorcing the husband. I have seen that where both the husband and wife have been at it and then come back together happily in later years.

    I remember the anecdote suggested was divorce whatever the question, it is good to see people being more pragmatic, and women especially not looking as they would prefer to have no relationship other than a relationship entirely on their terms and working out that there are ups and downs.

    I have seen though people marry people who are not as nice to them as the spouse they have divorced and that confuses me, although it is profitable for divorce lawyers.

    I think the grass is always greener myth has had its day.

    Re why do people stay together, well, as I have said before, people tend to marry people they like.

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