5 Tips for Surviving Grey Divorce in Retirement

By Guest Blogger: Michelle Petrowski Buonincontri, CFP®, CDFA

This article was originally published in  “The Street”


You were happy “once upon a time” and planned a future…. Now you’re 55 and getting a divorce.  Or maybe you’re 60 or even in your 70’s  and now part of a trend referred to as “Gray Divorce”, “ Grey Divorce”, “Silver Splitters”, or even “Diamond Divorcees”.

We know from reports such as the “Aging in the US  Retirement Security Trends in Marriage and Work Patterns May Increase Economic Vulnerability for Some Retirees” report to the Chairman, Special Committee, that divorce can worsen and create vulnerabilities for retirees. Additional research from Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family & Marriage Research, tells us that “Those who divorce earlier in adulthood have more time to recoup the financial loses divorce usually entails.. “In contrast, those who divorce later have fewer years of working life remaining and may not be able to fully recover economically from a gray divorce.”.  A late-life divorce can wreak havoc on even the most well-thought out retirement plan.  Consequently, divorce in retirement is a time when resources are diminished; household income has dropped, assets and cash-flow have been reduced, and spouses may find themselves vulnerable. This is a serious planning concern.

Financial planning was important for retirement before the divorce, and it can be even more important now if you are considering or going through a divorce.  A planner specializing as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst  (CDFA) can help you make the most of your retirement and manage these considerations:

Expectations & Education

During this time, managing expectations and financial education is paramount as income is typically limited and there is less time to replace needed retirement savings. This may be the first time a spouse must balance a budget, pay expenses, or manage a large cash settlement. One or both spouses may need to consider working longer (delaying retirement), modifying living expenses and discretionary spending.  Many times, one spouse may be entering the workforce – either again after many years or even for the first-time. Life will be different post-divorce; and the thought of this can be daunting and stressful and decisions tend to be made on emotions rather than facts. Ensure you have others in your life to help support you during this difficult time. Learn as much about your finances as possible and get educated on laws in your state.  Consider alternate divorce resolution models such as Mediation, maybe join a support group or yoga, be “mindful” of emotions,  and try to keep “healing” as a central theme as you weigh choices.


One of the most important decisions made during the divorce process concerns the identification and splitting of the assets. A few things to consider:

    • Are you in an equitable distribution or a community property state, and what does that mean for you and your spouse?
    • Which assets & debts are separate, marital or community?
    • Are the assets liquid – do you have or will  you need access to cash? 
    • Are asset division decisions being based on an “after tax” basis so you are comparing apples to apples when determining what is equitable?
    • Retirement splitting – Is a QDRO needed? A DRO? An MRO? If this is a divorce that involves a service member – Are you a 10/10/10 spouse? A 20/20/20 spouse? Do you need to file something with Defense Finance Accounting Service (DFAS) for the  survivor benefit program or continued healthcare?
    • Pension division involves many things to consider. Just a few include the availability of COLA benefits to the non-participant spouse, ensuring benefits for the surviving spouse if the employee spouse passes (before and after the employee spouse begins collecting benefits), ensuring proper pension valuation and agreement on parameters used. Does a pension “immediate offset” make more sense than receiving pension benefits?
    • What social security benefits are you entitled to as a divorced spouse? A divorced widow? How is your social security benefit impacted by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).
    • Is your spouse agreeing to take over debt and can you still be held responsible for those debts if they don’t pay? What happens if they file for bankruptcy?
    • Are there things on the tax return like depreciation, long-term carryover losses, passive activity losses, or net operating loss from a business that need to be reviewed and negotiated?  Or are you taking over the rental property as your primary home after the divorce?
    • What changes will need to be made to Estate planning?  Will, Trust, Power of Attorney, Healthcare Proxy, Healthcare Directive, asset retitling, account transfers, QDRO execution.
    • How does credit law differ from divorce law?  How does tax law differ from divorce law?

Settlement Process

Perhaps one of the best ways to handle financial expectations & fears is to use a data driven approach to the divorce settlement process. While developing your settlement it is important  to understand the short & long term effects on cash flow, taxes and your net worth, 5, 10, 20+ years into the future, because what may seem fair or equal on the surface is not equitable many times when looked at from a longer range view.

Certified Divorce Financial Analysts incorporate retirement planning into the divorce process; focusing on cash flow, healthcare costs, taxes, real estate, & net worth. This kind of Divorce Planning analysis, like retirement planning, allows spouses to negotiate and make adjustments in the decision of division of property & go into the settlement with a clear picture of their post-divorce financial future. It creates an opportunity to set the stage for fair negotiations,  level set expectations, establish “post-divorce” life goals and create a plan that both spouses can take action within and live with.

Increase Cash flow

If reducing expenses & saving can improve the odds for retirement success, then not carrying a mortgage into retirement could help after a gray divorce when income sources are limited & healthcare costs are most likely higher. A reverse mortgage can be used as a strategy in gray divorce to assist in retirement planning.

Cash flow is usually a concern during and after divorce, as the resources earmarked to support one household are now supporting two, and filing single on taxes could reduce net income available for living expenses. A HECM reverse mortgage should be evaluated as a possible “tool” or option, for those homeowners over 62 (who have little to no mortgage obligation), as it can be used to generate cash to bridge a shortfall in a spending plan, allow the delay of claiming Social Security or help facilitate the purchase of a new home for one or both spouses. A reverse mortgage can even protect against sequence risk and declines in your portfolio (if you are drawing from here, you don’t need to sell in a down market to raise cash), has benefits over HELOC, or could be used as part of LTC planning to stretch retirement assets.


Other ways to manage this disruption, like in retirement planning, may include adjusting goals, expectations & time frames. This could look like working longer, delaying Social Security claiming, reducing expenses (for example: downsizing or moving), saving more or considering a Single Premium Immediate Annuity to create guaranteed income. See also “Divorce Mistakes That Can Cost You”.  With flexibility and a positive attitude this can be an opportunity to recreate the next chapter of your lives.

Remember, no “one” plan or option makes sense for everyone, but having the right professionals to consult with  can make a difference in your long-term financial outlook.  Both the IDFA (Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts) https://www.institutedfa.com/  and the ADFP  (Association of Divorce Financial Plannerswww.divorceandfinance.org/ can be resources for finding a CDFA™ (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst)  professional to support you during this time of transition. Consult a Certified Financial Planner for comprehensive advice on strategies that address your specific retirement planning needs; see www.CFP.net or www.oneconnect.net


By: Michelle Buonincontri, Certified Financial Planner, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst

[email protected]

Gray Divorce – How to Explain the Boom in Boomer-Divorce?

You’re 50-something, maybe even 60.  You’re contemplating divorce and plagued by numerous dilemmas.  You’re stuck in a marriage with no discernible future but you’re too frightened to venture out into the scary world of dating.  Maybe you share too much history with your spouse and it’s almost impossible to think of yourself as being single.  Perhaps you’re unsure whether or not you want to go from living off the income of two to relying on just your own income.
These feelings are not unique to older couples.  In fact, people of all ages struggle with the same dilemmas.  You may be of the opinion that the already negative stigma surrounding divorce is made even worse by your older age.  But the reasons for divorce, whether or not it’s “gray divorce” (late-life divorce), vary from couple to couple.  And divorce at the age of 50 or more is no longer looked upon any differently than divorce at a younger age.
But why does gray divorce happen, and why has it become more common in recent years?  Here are some of the reasons given by experts for the boom in Boomer-divorce:
Longer life expectancy.  In the past, people died at a much younger age.  Reaching age 50 or 60 was less common.  Today, many people are healthy and vibrant beyond their 70’s and 80’s.  Since our life expectancy has increased so significantly, older couples are more frequently considering divorce because, now, age 50 or 60 is no longer too late to start a “new life.”
Change in women’s status.  The increase in women’s rights brought with it a general shift to women feeling more liberated and empowered.  Women today are less afraid to seek out what they want, rather than considering only what is best for their husbands and families.
Wear and tear.  The process that leads to divorce often happens slowly over time.  In other words, issues that started out as small may have slowly but surely eaten away at your relationship.
Age Difference.  Perhaps a larger age difference did not matter at the beginning of your relationship, but has now emerged as an unavoidable issue.  You or your spouse may also go through a “mid-life crisis,” which can break apart a previously stable relationship.  One partner may desire more adventure, while the other may be happy as a home-body.
Boredom.  Older couples are not the only ones who cite boredom as a factor in their divorces.  Even younger couples who are around each other 24/7 can suffer from boredom.  It, therefore, makes sense that older couples would be even more prone to this issue, having spent decades together performing the same routines and putting up with each other’s eccentricities.
Money habits.  Arguing over how to distribute income may eventually lead to divorce.  One spouse may prefer to save for the kids’ activities and college funds, while the other spouse may prefer to travel and spend on the couple itself.  Couples with kids – even adult kids — are undoubtedly more prone to having financially centered arguments than those without.
Sex.  With age comes hormonal changes, especially those related to sex drive.  One partner may desire the same amount of sexual activity as when the couple was younger, while the other partner’s drive may have fallen.  Another possibility is sexual incompatibility that existed at the beginning of the relationship may become more pronounced with age.


These are only a few of the many reasons why gray divorce happens.  Our bodies may grow older, but in our minds we remain the same person we’ve always been – and we know that we deserve happiness.  Older couples may be more reluctant to follow through with divorce because so many years of their lives have been invested in the relationship; or out of fear of an uncertain future.  But the fact is that divorce, regardless of age, will be a tough process.  The life-experience and enhanced financial stability that typically comes with older age may actually be an advantage for older couples and, ultimately, a tool to more smoothly navigate through a difficult process.

Gary Frank & Jacinda Chen

Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience in the areas of domestic relations, divorce, custody, division of property, support, modification and enforcement actions, Grandparents and non-parents rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children.  Mr. Frank’s experience includes acting in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court; and serving on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force.  If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate to call our office at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email at [email protected], or through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.

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