According to divorce and Marriage data released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), it seems the ‘silver generation’ is once again bucking the trends: the ONS reports a significant increase in divorces amongst the over-50s in 2013, while in 2014 there was an increase in marriages between the over-65s. Although the average marriage age is 37.0 years for men and 34.6 years for women, there was a 12 per cent increase in marriages of men older than 65, while marriages of women over 65 were up 17 per cent, and it is not unreasonable to assume a large proportion of these marriages are second or subsequent marriages – proof, if any were needed, that we are never too old to find love.
Commentators put the increase in divorce amongst the over-50s largely down to changes in social attitudes towards divorce although since its introduction in 2000, the pension sharing principle also enables separating parties to achieve greater financial independence after divorce.
The social implications of living alone in your 50s and beyond can be significant, and this may go some way to explaining why so many couples choose to marry or remarry in their later years. The International Longevity Centre, a London-based government policy think-tank, identifies a number of social problems arising from divorce such as ex-spouses not being able to rely on each other during periods of ill health or disability, which in turn increases many individuals’ reliance on their children or paid carers. In particular, divorced older men are most likely to rely on institutional care, potentially leading to feelings of isolation.
With this in mind, it is especially good to read the ONS report indicating the silver generation is forming new relationships and cementing new partnerships through marriage. But divorcing or remarrying in later life can bring its own pitfalls, the effects of which can often be mitigated by sound legal and financial advice.
Couples parting in their 50s require expert help in order to recover financially from a divorce. Relying on the confrontational court process can often be akin to using a sledge hammer to crack a nut – this approach does not usually allow for bespoke, creative solutions with the potential to provide for both parties their healthiest possible financial future. In contrast, when divorcing couples are able to work collaboratively, either with specially-trained lawyers or in formally-structured mediation, many more avenues can be explored and this alternative approach to relationship breakdown works even more effectively if an experienced financial advisor is involved in the process alongside professional legal mediators.
On the other hand, mature couples entering into marriage are likely to have grown up children from previous relationships and material assets of their own. This makes careful planning particularly important in order to take account of the needs or expectations of extended families and to minimise the potential for future conflict. Couples who wed in their 60s are well-advised to consider carefully in advance how they wish to share their assets on marriage – it may be that their interests are best served by a pre-nuptial agreement – and professional legal attention should be given to drawing up appropriate wills that accurately reflect their unique circumstances. It may also be wise for each party to make it clear from the outset who they would like to manage their affairs should they become unable to do so themselves and so avoid the resentment and conflict that can arise if adult children come to feel marginalised by their parent’s new life and recent affiliations.
As we ourselves grow older and wiser, family lawyers’ fees do not become an expensive yet unnecessary luxury. Gaining an objective expert legal perspective is, more often than not, an extremely worthwhile investment – conflicts and disputes that could have been avoided by timely legal advice and careful planning usually cost far more in the long run.
Collaborative lawyer and mediator
Head of George Ide’s family law department
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