Older Women & Divorce

Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images

"Till death do us part," brides and grooms may have once said, but increasing numbers of Americans aged 50-plus are getting divorced. In fact, the divorce rate among this age group -- referred to by sociologists as "the gray divorcees" -- has doubled since 1990, reports Sam Roberts in The New York Times. Increasingly, it is the older woman who starts divorce proceedings, reveals Lisa Bendall in her article "Divorce Goes Grey," for the Canada Association for Retired Persons magazine. Divorce may be both a positive and negative experience at any age, but certain challenges and opportunities are common for the older divorcing woman.


One of the main reasons women over 50 get divorced is that they reach a point in their lives when they don't have to worry about staying together for the sake of the children. The kids have grown and left home, sociologist Barbara Mitchell tells Bendall, and couples may feel free to deal with ongoing problems. For those women who are approaching retirement, they may take a closer look at their lives and realize nothing is stopping them from leaving an unhappy marriage. Women who have experienced working life are becoming increasingly empowered, due to a sense of financial independence, says Mitchell, meaning they are willing to face the challenges of divorce in order to escape unhappy marriages. People are living longer, explains Rachel L. Swarns in the article, "More Americans Rejecting Marriage in 50s and Beyond," for The New York Times, meaning increasing numbers of women are reluctant to spend a decade or more with a husband they aren't happy with.


Many older women worry about the financial challenges of divorcing in their 50s and beyond, says divorce coach Judy Smith, in the article "Divorce Over 50: The Challenges Are Different," on judysmithdivorcecoach.com. If a women has never had to deal with household finances, the thought of paying bills or balancing a checkbook may be intimidating. Whether an older woman has instigated the divorce or not, she may suffer from an identity crisis if her entire adult identity was linked to her husband and his career. Facing up to the prospect of loneliness may also be an issue after many years, or even decades, of living with a spouse. An older woman going through a divorce is faced with the same emotions a younger woman is, including anger, depression, grief, insecurity and fear, says Smith.


Getting divorced late in life may bring excellent opportunities for personal growth, according to Bendall. With no young children to care for, and retirement to enjoy or look forward to, the older woman has the time to pursue new hobbies, learn new skills, and establish new social circles. She can put her own needs, desires and passions first, possibly for the first time in her life. Starting over at this stage can bring happiness, satisfaction and freedom, says Swarns, whether it comes from starting a new business, getting involved in voluntary work, or taking advantage of time alone to meditate or exercise.


A divorce support group for women can be particularly helpful, says Smith, who was divorced in her 50s, and there is no need to worry that you will be the oldest in the group. When Smith attended her first divorce support group, she found that the majority of the attendees were also women aged 50-plus. Surround yourself with positive friends and family, advise divorce lawyers from the Thomas Chase Stutzman law firm, in the article "Special Tips for Divorced Women in Their 50s." An older woman, without the responsibility of caring for young children, may find herself with a lot of time on her hands, and end up dwelling on the breakdown of her marriage. A counselor or therapist may be able to provide the support she needs to move on.