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"Gray" divorces on the rise in Massachusetts

People in Massachusetts are accustomed to reading about young celebrity marriages ending in divorce only a few months after the marriage certificate is signed. However it is less common to hear about couples divorcing after 40 years of marriage--or at least it used to be. The number of people who are over 50 and divorcing is steadily rising. Indeed, it has become so commonplace that experts have coined a term for it: the "gray divorce."

A recent study found that between 1990 and 2010, the number of divorces among people 50 and over doubled.

The rise in gray divorces is due largely to society's increased acceptance of divorce in general. Older couples now see divorce as a viable option, free of the stigma it once had. As their kids get older and leave the house, these couples no longer feel compelled to stay in marriages in which they are not truly happy.

Gray divorces are unique not only for the age of the couple involved, but also for the focus and complexity of the divorce. An older couple is much more likely to have complicated property division issues because the couple will have had decades to amass considerable marital property.

Dividing retirement plans such as pensions and 401(k)s can be particularly difficult. In addition, tampering with retirement plans can have undesired tax consequences.

And older couples face special challenges even after divorce. After asset division, each person's retirement strategy will likely need changing, as will each person's estate plan.

While gray divorces can mark an exciting new phase in one's life, they also have the possibility being incredibly complicated. Having the right people working with a couple can mean the difference a contentious dispute and a divorce that allows both parties to have a fresh start on life.

Source: The Bakersfield Californian, "STEVEN VAN METRE: U.S. experiencing 'Gray Divorce Revolution'," Steven Van Metre, March 13, 2013

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