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Statistics on divorce reveal interesting trends among the over 50s. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed that among opposite sex couples in 2016 the number of divorces was highest among both men and women aged 45 to 49. However, for both men and women, it was the over 50s where the rate of divorce increased by most last year.
More than 13,000 women aged 55 and above divorced in 2016, while for men the figure was 19,454.
I am sure there are many reasons for the sea change. As a family lawyer I see couples drifting apart when their children leave home; where one party might have found a new interest and we’ve all heard of old friendships and relationships being ignited through social media. Other issues such as financial freedom and wealth often mean that couples don’t feel compelled to stay with each other until ‘death do they part’.
More often than not older couples have more assets and these can include complicated savings and/or property portfolios for example. The family home is likely to be mortgage free, there may be policies and investments due to mature, and there may be significant pensions about to be drawn down.
As with all divorces the needs of the parties will be highly relevant – where will they each live? How will they meet their outgoings? What will happen when they retire?
For couples in later life and verging on retirement, a divorce can mean both a split in assets and a drop in income which can place a heavy burden on both parties. This is particularly true with pensions as one spouse may not have had sufficient time to build up their own pension fund and may, therefore, struggle to meet their outgoings when they retire. For those people who have already retired when their divorce takes place it can be a significant upheaval to divide the pension assets. Conversely following the new pension rules that allow people to get cash payments from pensions at lower rates of taxation could help prevent other things, such as a forced sale of the family home. Giving couples access to cash may allow them to purchase a home for one of them, for example.
It is therefore vital that legal advice, as well as independent financial advice, is sought at the outset. Ascertaining the values of financial investments and pensions will be necessary.
Research has shown that dating websites and apps are increasing the romantic opportunities for those searching for love later in life. The ONS said there has been a sharp increase in the over-60s marrying again.
Tying the knot again in later years is romantic and exciting but it also brings about its own concerns and issues that the couple should give careful consideration to.
There may be family members who have pinned their hopes on an inheritance or have expectations about how money will be handled by a surviving parent. Marriage at any age more often than not will mean a merging of finances.
Each party needs to understand the financial and legal implications that marriage will have on their estate planning, retirement plans and liability for each others’ long-term care costs.
Getting married can have a big impact on estate planning and so it is sensible to obtain advice about this before the marriage. In a lot of cases spouses are automatically entitled to a share of their spouse’s estate even if they haven’t included a new spouse in their will.
Typically, when a couple marry, their first obligation is to take care of their spouse, but that may not necessarily be the priority for couples getting married later in life. Most couples marrying for a second time (or more) will want to leave at least some of their assets to their children and grandchildren.
The family home can cause problems for both spouses as well as their children. It is really important that the couple think about what will happen to the house if one of them were to die.
I strongly recommend that couples marrying for the second time or more ensure that their Wills are up to date and that they enter a pre-nuptial agreement. This will allow them to outline their intentions as to who should benefit from what in the event of their death as well as what should happen to the matrimonial assets in the event their relationship breaks down. This approach can, undoubtedly prevent costly and stressful disputes.