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The Grey Divorce: Baby Boomers Ending Marriages Later in Life Than Others

Harriette M. Steinberg

Harriette M. Steinberg

Survey says: Baby Boomers are ending their marriages later in life than other age groups, according to the Association of Divorce Financial Planning (ADFP).

The U.S. Census Bureau considers a Baby Boomer to be one of the 76 million American children born during the Post-World War II birth boom between 1946 and 1964.

For validation of the ADFP’s “Grey Divorce” findings, we need only look to Washington [D.C.], Hollywood and New York for a bevy of Boomers whose marriages hit the rocks decades after their optimistic “I do’s.”

On June 1, 2010, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and wife Tipper Gore, both born in 1948, called it quits after four decades together. Just one month after their 40th anniversary, they announced their decision to friends via email.

In 2009, CSI TV actress Marg Helgenberger, born in 1958, filed for divorce from her 58-year-old husband of nearly two decades, actor Alan Rosenberg. She was seeking spousal support while asking the court to deny him any.
New York City’s former first lady Donna Hanover, born in 1950, was divorced from Mayor Rudy Giuliani, six years her senior, after 18 years of marriage and two children. He filed in 2000, she counter-filed in 2002.
Surprised by this trend? Let’s examine the numbers:

Couples who have made it through decades of family rearing and career building now are 3 times more likely to divorce as their “Greatest Generation” parents.
Boomer women are far more motivated to dissolve their marital unions than their husbands are (Reference: “Calling it Quits: Late-Life Divorce and Starting Over” by Deirdre Bair)
A popular 2004 AARP study, which polled 1,147 respondents ages 40–79, found that women initiated 2 out of every 3 divorces in this age range.
The reasons behind this trend are not hard to identify.

The Baby Boomer generation has enjoyed the greatest prosperity of any group in our culture. After marrying early and having children, sacrificing their own careers to serve as full-time child-rearers and hubby-cheerleaders, many Boomer women feel wholly entitled to pursue their own dreams. With the fading of once-shared marital interests, some women choose to pursue their newly defined happiness alone, while others select a new partner. Of course, their financial independence provides a big boost to this newfound freedom.

As they live longer, Boomers are placing greater emphasis on accumulating sufficient assets to support their desired lifestyle into their 80s and, more commonly, 90s. Simply dividing assets between the divorcing parties may not be the best solution.

Divorcing Boomer couples may find it fairer and more acceptable to keep some financial interests between them, rather than completely ending their financial partnership with the divorce. Establishing a post-divorce Trust fund can grant the surviving former spouse the right to receive full or partial income from the decedent’s assets.

And at their stage in life, divorcing Boomers in a 30-year or longer marriage seldom face the same concerns as younger couples: child custody, child support and job-related relocation. In contrast, their issues include long-term care, post-retirement support and estate planning.

This is where Collaborative Divorce offers the most benefit for older couples.

In contrast to a litigated divorce where a judge’s rigid practices, timetables and rulings may ignore the aging soon-to-be-ex-spouses’ needs, Collaborative Divorce is designed to address their special primary concerns.

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