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The unique challenges of grey divorce

Senior Associate Ashley Le-Core joins us on the blog to talk about Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford’s ‘grey divorce’ and what might be different about, and the unique challenges of, divorcing later in life.

‘Grey divorce’, also known as ‘silver splitter divorce’, is perhaps a lesser-known term meaning when a couple divorces over the age of 50, although it tends to be used for divorcees in their mid-60s onwards.

The most recent high-profile example of so-called grey divorce comes with the announcement that TV personalities Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford are parting ways and are getting divorced. News reports suggest that their careers are moving in different directions, and their marriage has followed suit.

Whilst Holmes and Langsford are not the first celebrity couple to divorce, nor will they be the last, they are both aged 64, and only married 14 years ago.

Divorce can be difficult at any age, but for older people and ‘grey divorce’ there may be additional factors to consider. So, what happens and what are the challenges of divorcing later in life and what do ‘silver splitters’ need to be aware of?

Financial Settlements for Grey Divorce

One of the most important factors in any divorce is dividing up the finances and coming to a financial settlement. This can be complicated and is often where tensions arise between a separating couple.

In the case of Holmes and Langsford, as TV presenters they are likely to have significant assets that will need dividing. Like many people around this age, their child is an adult, which means that the assets they have will simply need to be split as equally as possible. They will both clearly need an appropriate property for them to live in, and an income moving forward, whether by way of their continued income from television commitments or indeed pensions that they have been able to put away.

In this way, the division of assets ostensibly is fairly smooth.

Where there may be an issue in grey divorce is if the couple married later in life, or one or both spouses were married previously. There may be some debate over what money, property and other assets are pre-marital, and what should be included in the marital pot.

The matrimonial pot is the assets and finances, including pensions, debt and any business interests, a married couple shares, which then gets divided upon divorce. The starting point is usually a 50/50 split but can be shifted depending on current and future needs, any children, and various other criteria.

However, there can sometimes be debate over what counts as a marital asset. For Holmes and Langsford, they both had successful careers before marrying each other, and Holmes had been married previously. There has also been speculation about the role Holmes has played in Langsford’s career and whether this will be factored into the financial settlement.

This is where a prenuptial agreement (prenup) may come into play, although there has been no mention of any such document, therefore it is quite likely that their assets are likely to be roughly equal at the conclusion of their divorce.

Prenups are not legally binding in England and Wales, but they are growing in popularity especially for people entering marriage later in life, or who are entering their second or third marriage. They can help protect assets, and ringfence property and inheritance for children from a previous marriage. They lay out all the assets of the couple, including what each couple brings from before the relationship, and what will happen to them should the marriage break down.

Any debate over matrimonial or non-matrimonial assets could be concluded through resolution methods such as mediation, collaborative divorce, or a private financial dispute resolution hearing.

Pensions in Grey Divorce

Pensions are often avoided in divorce negotiations as they are seen as too complex, or often because divorcees (especially women) do not know that they should form part of the settlement. However, pensions are often one of the most valuable assets a couple has.

It is not known whether Holmes and Langsford are currently drawing from their pensions. If they are not, their individual pension packets will form part of the overall financial settlement, either by way of a pension sharing order or pension offsetting.

However, in some grey divorces, pensions can become complex, particularly when the pots are imbalanced or if one or both spouses have started to draw from their pension.

If the pensions are in payment, they can still be split as they would have been before. However, there are some restrictions to this as it is not possible to take a lump sum from a pension that is in payment, or from one that has been used to purchase annuity.

If you or your ex-spouse are retired and receiving pension payments, it is highly recommended that you seek legal advice and financial advice around how they are best divided upon divorce.

The Emotional Impact 

However, what may well be more difficult for Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford, as well as others going through later-life divorce, is the emotional impact.

‘Silver splitters’ have often known each other as a partner for a significant period of time, and with divorce, leave the comfort and familiarity of that relationship to start a new chapter. Whether the couple end things on good terms, or if there is animosity, there will no doubt be a feeling of fear of the unknown as to what is coming as to their next chapter, and the underlying fears, anxieties, and plans for the future may well weigh heavily on them.

For Holmes and Langsford, one of their biggest considerations will be their collaborative work on TV. Their careers are said to be moving in different directions, but this will likely be a significant emotional if not practical change.

Grey divorce in particular, is often a time that is filled with a lot of anxiety. Couples have known stability and had one person that they could rely on and expected to spend the remainder of their days with.

Moving into the unknown at the point of retirement or around that period can be something that fills an individual with genuine concern and anxiety for the unknown.  A lot of care must be given to those feelings at that period, as one could argue it is a much more difficult time for a marriage to break down. Re-evaluating retirement plans, housing, and even thinking about the impact on adult children and potentially grandchildren can be stressful and overwhelming.

As well as legal advice, other emotional support is available and recommended, for example through divorce coaching or counselling.

Useful Links

Do I need a financial settlement?

Navigate the complexities of divorce with mediation

When ‘I do’ becomes ‘I don’t’

The Impact of the Menopause on Relationships

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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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