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Recent figures produced by the Office for National Statistics show that the number of people aged over 60 getting divorced each year has been rising steadily since the mid-1990s. According to the ONS dramatic changes in life expectancy have prompted many couples to reconsider whether growing old together is still what they really want. Sadly, triggers such as the empty nest syndrome mean family lawyers are being consulted by many older peoplewishing to untie the knot. Many couples find that when their children move out of the family home the dynamics between them changes quite dramatically and without children to care for they lack anything in common. With people living longer, the opportunity of online dating and of course the abundance of social media means new interests are discovered and new relationships formed.
Traditionally, couples have felt compelled to stay together until “death do us part”. These days we all have more relaxed attitudes towards divorce and separation and clearly many people long for new found freedom after years of responsibility. Divorce and, in particular, sorting out a financial settlement for the over 60’s and couples who have been married for a long time can sometimes be more complex than for a younger couple. There are a number of important legal issues that can arise in divorce for those in this age range and expert legal advice is vital.
Quite often a couple in their 60’s will have paid off their mortgage and the family home is likely to be a large asset. Whilst this means there is more money to divide up whether there will be sufficient funds with which to purchase properties for both parties could be a particular problem. It can be difficult for people at this stage in their lives to obtain a mortgage for either party particularly if they’re not working.
A pension is often also one of the largest matrimonial assets of a long marriage. It can be particularly relevant in the common scenario where a husband has been the main breadwinner in the family and has accumulated either a pension fund or funds during his working life but his wife has not worked for several years and has no pension fund of her own or has a very limited state pension. For older couples there may also be a large difference in their incomes and the lowest earner may have difficulties in making ends meet. The question of spousal maintenance may have to be considered.
Divorce can be very stressful at the best of times. It is a time of great upheaval and uncertainty and finding the right professionals to help couples through this difficult time is vital. It is important to take a collaborative approach where both financial and legal advisors can work together with the couples to help plan for the future. Recognising that divorce for a couple in their 60’s or over may present challenges both financially and emotionally for them is essential and a considerate and understanding approach by their legal and financial advisors is crucial.