While so many parents look forward to their children moving onto college or establishing their careers away from the household, there are a growing number of 50-plus-year-olds in fear of the day. Instead of couples imagining a freer home, more disposable income or reinvigorating their lives together, the reality of spending more time in an unsatisfying relationship without “the kids”, fills them with dread.
‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ is suspected to be at the heart of the issue. In fact, the rate of mature couples splitting once the children have left home is on the increase particularly for those who have had an unstable or unhappy marriage.
While statistics show US divorce rates are declining, the exception is among adults who are 50 years and older. This demographic has more than doubled its divorce rate since the 1990s.
A worldwide issue
It’s not a phenomenon only seen in the USA. The rise of “gray divorce” is a global phenomenon. Specialist family law advisors across the western world, from UK family law solicitors to a family lawyer Brisbane-based in Australia, and many European family legal professionals are reporting increased rates of empty nester divorces.
In Japan, it is referred to as “retired husband syndrome”. Couples who have spent years together, with the husband mostly away from the house working to support the raising of the children, are brought together. There is a rise in the number of wives reporting depression and even physical illness as a result.
Why “Till Death Do Us Part” can be agony
It can seem a life sentence of misery for those imagining spending their golden years legally bound to a person who they have little in common with and may even dislike or fear.
The term “silver or diamond splitters” was first coined in the US in 2004 for the rise in over 50s divorce. While the children leaving the marital home is usually the trigger for “silver splitter” divorce, there are additional factors at play.
The young couple who fell in love and happily held hands to pursue a life together are different people in their 50s and onwards. The spark has died for many. They have often only had one common interest – the raising of their children. Otherwise, couples have little to bind them together.
Many will describe this lack of care or understanding of each other’s lives as “it just wasn’t working” or “we just grew apart”.
Couples tend to hold off from divorcing until their financial situation is in a stronger position. When the children leave home, there is usually more household income that provides greater financial access.
The exception to the rule is the rise of 40 to 69-year-old females. It’s this demographic who initiate the divorce 66% of the time. It’s considered this is financed from the women being more cashed up and independent after having pursued their own careers. Previous generations were more likely to be dependent on their husbands finances and were home-based to raise the family.
Psychologists suggest that couples are more likely to cheat at different phases of their married lives, with a child moving out of the house a noticeable trigger. This life stage creates a different dynamic within couples, leaving those with unstable relationships open to finding satisfaction in the arms of another.
There is also a time factor. Parents with kids at home don’t have a lot of time for extramarital affairs. However, once the house is empty, and an unhappy couple focuses on the marriage, it can be seen as emotionally and physically unsatisfactory.
People are more active, connected and more likely to live longer. WIth this comes the ability to make choices about their next phase of their life, without the bonds of caring for children within the household.
Research from Brown University found that the more couples hear of their friends and family separating, a “divorce cluster” can form. It simply becomes socially acceptable to take legal steps to part ways with a spouse so an individual can pursue personal happiness.
There is hope
For empty nesters who are taking the plunge to leave their marriages, there may be complex financial affairs and even family pressure to work through, but there is hope.
Family law attorneys can offer the legal advice and support to talk an individual through the asset division, taxation implications and even work toward putting in personal planning to ensure a strong financial future.