Wetherby-based solicitor Neil Dring appeared on BBC Radio Gloucestershire this morning to discuss divorce and separation among older couples.
As the overall divorce rate is going down, divorce among the older population is on the rise. Neil told presenter Anna King that his experience backs up the statistics. When he started out in the legal profession, a lot of the divorce cases that he was dealing with involved couples his age or slightly older. However, he has found that this is still the case 30 years later. This shows that divorce trends are changing and more people are divorcing later in life.
Neil pointed out that one of the reasons behind the increasing age of divorcees could be the ever-increasing life expectancy. This means that more couples can grow apart, rather than growing together. People lead busy and hectic lives. They deal with work, children and mortgages, but when the mortgage is paid off, they retire and the children all move out, couples can realise that there is not much else left.
Click here to listen to Neil’s full interview – Neil’s interview begins at 19:00.
Transcript from Neil Dring on BBC Gloucestershire
AK: Anna King
ND: Neil Dring
AK: Neil Dring is a senior solicitor at Stowe Family Law. Hello, good morning to you, Neil.
ND: Good Morning, Anna.
AK: Are you noticing then an increase in the number of people splitting up after 25/30 years plus together?
ND: Yes, definitely without a shadow of a doubt and I’ve been help people through the choppy waters of divorce for the past 31 years now. When I first started in 1984, most of my clients were of a similar age to me or a little bit older and now 31 years later that’s still the case, they’re a similar age to me or a bit older. Presume it is a coincidence but that means that the average age of divorce is getting older and older even than that. It’s not uncommon now for people to start divorce proceedings certainly in their late 70s and then into their 80s.
AK: What is the oldest couple then that you came across that decided to divorce?
ND: Me personally, that will be in the mid-80s but I’ve heard of a couple for example from Cornwall who divorce when they were 98 and that was fairly recent back in 2009 and both 98 years of age but that said it was both of their second marriage so they were old hands at it, they had been divorce previously in their early 60s. But I think the world’s oldest comes from Italy where a chap divorced his wife when he was 99 years of age having found out from letters that he had discovered that she’d had an affair in the 1940s just shortly after they were married.
AK: What are some of the reasons then that people come forward and quite clearly that’s one of them, can it be something that is just like they have been annoyed by x, y, z for so many years and then just crack one day and say that’s it, I’m out. What are the stories?
ND: I think that’s exactly it. There is never a single reason why people get divorced; they could find a letter in the top draw that was written 77 years ago and say ‘right, that’s it’. There must have been problems for a long time before that and that’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I think a lot of it happens because of the way that we live our lives. We get married young, we then have children, we take on a mortgage for 25 years or more and we stay together because we need to do so to maintain and be able to pay that mortgage which we don’t think there’s a way out. We want to help our children through college and university and so on, then at the end of that 25 years later we turn around and look at the person on the sofa and think ‘who are you?’ because we have been so mixed up in our relationship with our children and working hard that we forget to spend time with each other and forget to grow together and tend to grow apart which I think is part of the sadness of it. On the other hand, it is sad that it happens but you could say that it is uplifting that someone in their 60s, 70s and 80s still has that energy and vinph left in life to be bothered with it.
AK: To make the effort…
ND: To make the effort rather than say ‘this is my lot and just survive and just see my years out in an unhappy marriage’, no, they’re being optimistic of their future.
AK: I heard of a man locally funnily enough, a man in his late 70s who one day say ‘that’s it, I’m out of here’ and he checked himself into a retirement home and went to live in the retirement home and walked away from the marriage that way. So there are specific issue arising with this age group, the ‘silver splitters’ as they are being described, you’re not thinking about young children and the implications for them but you are obviously thinking about pensions, property issues, you’re not going to be getting a mortgage at that age so there are different implications here then aren’t there?
ND: Well that’s absolutely right and that’s one of the reasons for the increase divorce among the older generations now as t previously because in past years people wouldn’t have the assets, they wouldn’t have had the houses, they wouldn’t have the savings or the pensions – they couldn’t afford to get divorced. Now, the ‘silver splitters’ as they are called have been through that part of their lives when they’ve been fortunate that property prices have gone up and they do have assets that they can divide between the two, and yes, they will then have a reduced standard of living in financial terms but their quality of life is better because they’re more happy within themselves, having a reduced standard of living is better for them.
AK: Well it is if you’re the one who has chosen it but if you’re not the one whose chosen it then you wouldn’t say your life feels better at all, it’s absolutely devastating at a late stage in proceedings isn’t it?
ND: Absolutely right and I think that’s where you need to take advice and that’s where the process of going through a divorce can be very helpful. I will frequently see people who are, as you say, distraught and can’t see what tomorrow will bring. The process isn’t a short process, it can take six to nine months as a minimum, sometimes a little more. Which at the outset seems a long time but ultimately, actually allows people to get used to the idea to develop to speak to their lawyer and the people involved and to try and put something together and plan for the future and get used to adjusting to changes that will be made. Very often there is enough in the house, in the capital and in the pensions to be able to plan for the future and it’s a question of coming to terms with the changes that will be in your lives. Pensions are very important of course now, particularly with the new pension changes. Before April you could just take a lump sum and then have an income for life, it would be very important for, particularly in the view of a vulnerable wife that pension was shared for her future income. But now, the option is there from 65 to cash in the whole of your pension for a lump sum. We need to be very careful about that because while that’s fine because you can then use that lump sum to buy housing, it means the income for the future has gone and we need to make that sure that although there is capital in a house, you need to be able to pay the bill to maintain and support the house.
AK: Have you ever had a couple that have been together for a umpteen years who have come to talk about divorce and then turn around and say no, actually we’re going to stay together?
ND: Yes, absolutely.
AK: See, that has actually given my heart a little warm. Clearly it is going to be unusual but it does happen then?
ND: Absolutely. I have even had people have gone on a started the divorce process and half way through the process and then met up to discuss how to sort the house out and got along like a house on fire and decided to back out of it. It happens, clearly not all the time, but it’s not infrequent at all. Very often, people don’t realise how they feel about somebody else until they are about to lose them and clearly, it doesn’t happen very often because nobody would go to see a solicitor without thinking about it long and hard beforehand but it certainly does happen. One of the benefits, most solicitors who deal with divorce will allow and give free advice to begin with and normally give at least a free consultation so people can find out where they will stand and what the future will hold for them. Then of course they have to weigh in the balance, the vantage of moving away from an unhappy marriage against the disadvantage of the financial consequences will be and not very often I give people advice and then later on they come back and say ‘thank you for that, we’ve spoken and we’re going to make it work’, and that’s great.
AK: Yes, whatever works and makes people happy. Neil, thank you very much. How interesting was that? Neil Dring Senior Lawyer at Stowe Family Law where he has had people in their 80s who’ve been married donkeys years coming in a going ‘that’s it, no more’. The oldest person to divorce their other half, 99-years old, it’s extraordinary isn’t it.