Gray Divorce: It’s Not A Midlife Crisis

When you hear of a couple divorcing in their 50s or older, the first thing that might pop into your head is that one of them is probably going through a midlife crisis. It’s natural to assume this after a couple has been married for so long, but the truth is, most gray divorces aren’t just spur-of-the-moment decisions. Many are planned with intentionality, and they’re becoming more and more common.

Gray Divorce Rates Have Doubled Since 1990

The thought that you have to stick it out in a marriage you’re unhappy in has essentially gone out the window as the Baby Boomer generation has entered the second half of their lives. While their parents and grandparents may have stayed in a miserable marriage to save face, this more free-spirited generation has made it clear that they intend to do things differently.

Divorce rates among those 50 years and older have doubled since 1990. The gray divorce rate is quite substantial, with nearly 10 out of 1,000 marriages ending in divorce.

Those Who Have Been Married Before Are More Likely to Have a Gray Divorce

One of the biggest contributing factors of gray divorce? Remarriage. Those who have been divorced already are more likely to divorce again. 60% for second marriages and nearly 75% for third marriages. So the high gray divorce rate makes sense, as many people age 50 and older have already been married and divorced.

While Baby Boomers make up the majority of gray divorces right now, this will change as Gen X and Millennials get older. Since divorce rates are lower among these generations, gray divorce rates may decrease in the coming years, but it’s no guarantee. Why are divorce rates so much lower among the younger generations? Many are waiting longer to tie the knot– perhaps in part because they’ve seen their parents get a divorce and don’t want to experience the same thing.

Children of Gray Divorces Are Still Affected

 Many couples wait to divorce until their children are older and out of the house, thinking that once their children are on their own the divorce won’t affect them as much. While it may not affect them in the way it will younger children, adult children are still affected by divorce. It might affect them even more.

Adult children are often put in the middle of their parent’s divorce, hearing things about their parent’s marriage that they otherwise would have been kept away from if they were younger. They may feel guilt over their parents staying in an unhappy marriage for them. They also may be put in uncomfortable situations around holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations. Do you invite both parents or hold separate events?

While adult children usually stay connected to their mothers after a gray divorce in the same way they did before, they are less likely to stay in close contact with their fathers. In fact, fathers are 50% less likely to stay involved in the lives of their adult children after a gray divorce. Many factors can contribute to this, with two being the most prevalent. One, mothers are typically the core of the family unit. Two, men are more likely to move on and remarry after a divorce, focusing more on their life with their new partner.

Dating After a Gray Divorce

Age is nothing but a number, and that definitely applies to dating after a gray divorce. Dating in this age bracket can be just as hot and spicy as dating when you’re younger. It can be even more fun, as you usually have more freedom after a gray divorce. Younger children, dealing with your ex, and financial woes typically aren’t a concern. You’re also more experienced and know what you want out of life and out of a partner. Most importantly- you know who you are!

Getting back out there after a gray divorce has been made even easier with the increasing popularity of online dating. There are even dating apps specifically tailored to those aged 50 and older!

Factors to Consider with Gray Divorce

Issues like child custody may not be a factor with a gray divorce. Yet, there are still some very important things to consider:

  • Division of assets:

    Many going through a gray divorce are already retired, so things like social security, pensions, 401K, savings accounts, and other assets will likely be key factors in the divorce. We recommend consulting with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) during a gray divorce.

  • Health insurance:

    While younger adults may feel like they can get away with not having health insurance for a little while after a divorce, older adults usually don’t have that luxury. Depending on your age, Medicare may be an option. A COBRA plan offered from your former spouses’ insurance company or insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are also reasonable choices to consider.

  • Living arrangements:

    Most older adults own a home (maybe more than one). Determining whether you will keep it or sell is another key issue during a gray divorce. Since younger children usually aren’t a factor in who keeps the house, it will likely come down to whether there is an outstanding loan on the home, and who can afford the payments.

  • Living Will/Health Care Proxy:

    Another thing that may not be a big issue for those who divorce when they are younger, but is a bigger issue in gray divorce, are wills and health care proxies. If these already exist, it’s a good idea to have them updated to reflect the divorce. If they don’t already exist, it’s a good time to have them completed.

Gray divorce can be a big change for everyone, but it’s also a chance to take control of the rest of your life. It’s an opportunity to be sure you’re living life the way you want to. While there are different factors to consider, what remains the same with every divorce is that there is a grieving and healing process for all involved. Honor the process no matter your age will help make the transition into this next phase of your life a little smoother.

More Resources:

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Essential Resources

If you’re facing legal/custody battles, a mental health crisis, an urgent medical issue, serious emotional problems, including suicidal thoughts, please seek help from the appropriate professionals near you.

Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Crisis line: 1-800-356-5395
Crisis text line: Text “help” to 741741
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) Resources Marital Life Inventory
Divorce Lifecycle Document
Divorce Process Overview


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