You may have heard the term “gray divorce” more often lately and wondered what it meant. Gray divorce is not a specific type of proceeding.

Rather, it is a term used to describe the phenomenon of older couples, many of whom have been together for 25 years or more, deciding to bring their marriage to an end.

Potential difficulties

Divorcing your spouse is not necessarily any easier after many years of marriage. In fact, it may be more difficult in some respects. Having had more time together to accumulate joint marital property, division of assets can be comparatively more difficult for “silver splitters” than for a younger couple who have not been married as long.

The older you and your spouse are, the more likely it is that you have played out the traditional family roles of husband as breadwinner and wife as caretaker. If this is true, and you are a wife who has been financially dependent on your husband for decades, the transition to independence may be more difficult for you.

Gray divorce not only affects you but also the people who are close to you. Even grown children may have difficulty adjusting to the resulting change in the family dynamic. If you have arguments with your spouse and your children feel drawn into the conflict, it may cause them anxiety and stress.

Difficulties such as this do not indicate that you should not divorce your spouse of many years, but it may be helpful to know what the consequences could be and prepare for them in advance.

Potential causes

Sometimes the reason for a gray divorce relates specifically to a particular behavior. For example, you may have an addiction, or your spouse may cheat on you. Other times, you and your spouse may “grow apart” over time, perhaps during the empty-nest period when the kids have left home and no longer require your constant care and supervision. The gradual increase of life expectancy may cause you to decide that you cannot cope with an unsatisfactory domestic situation any longer.

If you are contemplating gray divorce, know that you are not alone. According to research, people over age 50 are divorcing at an increasingly high rate, despite overall divorce rates declining over the past 20 years.