No so long ago, it was uncommon to hear of a couple getting a divorce at age 50 or older. That is no longer the case. Changing social views of divorce, an aging population, and new laws have all contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of divorces in this age bracket. In some ways, these divorces are like all others; however, there are some special considerations in these cases.
- Medicaid. When marriages degenerate, individuals over age 50 (more so than their younger counterparts) will often separate but not immediately divorce. If you have such a relationship, it is important to consider the effects of a divorce from a Medicaid planning perspective, even if you have a prenuptial agreement
- Nursing Home. If either party to the divorce requires nursing home care, or may require such care in the future, the person who is considering filing for divorce should know his or her potential responsibility for the medical and nursing home expenses of his or her spouse under the Support Act. This is yet another reason why separated older couples may want to consider pursuing a divorce, rather than a prolonged separation.
- Insurance. It would be wise to consider life insurance and/or disability insurance to protect a spouse who is receiving alimony. Also, health insurance and long term care insurance are especially important consideration for divorcing individuals over age 50. Be sure to understand how you are insured and how your level and type of insurance will impact your future financial security.
- Retirement. It is important to identify and understand the type of retirement benefits that you and/or your spouse are receiving or are entitled to receive in the future. Retirement benefits can be divided between the employee spouse and the non-employee spouse using a Qualified Domestic Relations Order.
- Estate Planning. All divorcing individuals should immediately consider changes to their estate planning documents. In the midst of a divorce, it is easy to overlook this step. It is important for you to ascertain what, if any, obligation you have to provide for your ex-spouse as a result of the divorce, or perhaps as the result of a prenuptial agreement.
- Employment History, Social Security & Alimony. It is not uncommon for families to have one spouse who is the “breadwinner” and one spouse who is the “homemaker.” In addition, when they are of age to qualify for such benefits, individuals often heavily on their Social Security retirement benefits; therefore, it is important to keep in mind the relative benefits received by each spouse and their potential future employment status throughout the equitable distribution process. Alimony is often the most efficient way to provide financial stability to the economically dependent spouse. However, if you have a fixed income, alimony is not always sufficient to cover the special needs or expenses of the parties.
- Physical Health. Although health is an important factor for anyone who is divorcing, it is especially true for the senior population. It is important for a divorcing individual to fully disclose to counsel his or her physical and mental health limitations, as these may be relevant to equitable distribution and alimony.
While this list touches upon a few of the issues that must be considered when divorcing over age 50, we strongly recommend that other individuals who are considering filing for divorce establish a relationship with both an elder law attorney and a family law attorney. Such collaboration is likely to lead to a more favorable outcome.