Theresa Martin was married for 40 years. She says her husband suffered from alcoholism, but because she was a stay-at-home mom and feared she couldn’t survive on her own, she stayed in the marriage, always holding on to the hope that he would stop drinking. But by Thanksgiving 2006, after he had retired from his job as an architect, she says he became verbally abusive in front of her son, and she decided she’d had enough. She left him at the age of 65.
Martin is part of a growing trend of people leaving marriages late in life. At a time when the divorce rate in general has remained stable, divorce among people over the age of 50 has doubled, from 4.67 percent of divorces in 1990 to 9.74 percent, in 2009, according to census data. That adds up to 600,000 Americans over 50 who divorced in 2009.
Lisa Helfend Meyer, a family lawyer at Meyer, Olson, Lowy & Meyers in Los Angeles, says at least 25 percent of her divorce clients are retired couples. Ten years ago, that figure was about 5 percent. “As baby boomers, we’ve always learned the concept of immediate gratification. If a marriage turns sour, people aren’t willing to work on their issues,” she says.
The problem with getting divorced late in life, though, is that most people save enough for retirement and don’t imagine living off of just half of it. “It’s not a pretty picture,” says Helfend Meyer.
is about the worst financial
decision you could make”
Sharyn Maggio, a forensic accountant in Eatontown, New Jersey whose focus is divorce cases, says if a couple had money in the marriage, there will be money to go around in the divorce — even if the couple is retired. The challenge is for normal middle-class couples who just scraped by. When they try to make their house and retirement assets cover two households instead of one, there’s simply not enough to go around. And for people in their sixties or seventies, possibly with medical issues, they’re not likely to go back to work.