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Navigating divorce in later life

What are the considerations when getting divorced in later life and how can you navigate the legal and financial aspects?

April 24, 2024

Elderly couple discussing relationship

Divorce in retirement is becoming an increasingly common trend in the UK, with more and more people aged 60 and over deciding to end their marriage and start a new chapter in their lives.

However, divorce can be particularly challenging when it occurs in older age. From practical responsibilities and financial considerations to emotional challenges, divorce among older adults can be daunting and overwhelming.

In this article, we delve into the complexities of navigating divorce in retirement, address some of the common questions that can arise during a separation and provide valuable advice on how to build independence in later life.

Jump to:

  1. Who are silver splitters?
  2. First step of getting divorced in later life
  3. Legal aspects of elderly divorce
  4. Financial considerations of divorce in retirement
  5. Building a new life after divorce

1. Who are silver splitters?

The term ‘silver splitters’ refers to individuals aged 60 and over going through, or recently have gone through, a divorce. In fact, this demographic represents a growing trend, as more and more older couples decide to part their ways in their later years.

The reasons for becoming silver splitters vary and can range from long-term marital issues to a desire for change, personal growth and fulfilment in the later stages of life. However, some of the common factors leading to elderly divorce can include:

  • Longstanding marital problems
  • Financial disputes
  • Empty nest syndrome
  • Changes of lifestyle and priorities
  • Desire for personal growth

However, every marriage is unique, and the decision to proceed with divorce in later life can depend on a variety of reasons and circumstances.


2. First steps of getting divorced in later life

Getting divorced or dissolving a civil partnership in later life can sometimes be a longer process, evaluating all the outcomes and risks of such a major transition. Especially if the couple has been together for some time, working out how to separate their lives, both practically and emotionally, can be a lengthy process to undertake.

During the initial phase of the divorce, it’s important to thoroughly communicate the decision with the partner as well as the rest of the family, make a future plan and seek support from trusted friends, family members or a counsellor, if needed.

Here are some essential first steps to consider when getting divorced in later life:

Initiate open and honest conversations

As already mentioned, communication can be key to navigating divorce in later life, allowing elderly couples to understand their personal feelings, needs and future aspirations. As part of this stage of the process, it might also be a good time to share your views on the changes to your living situation and dividing your possessions.

Similarly, this transition can be equally challenging for the couples’ children, grandchildren and other members of the family, and it’s vital to openly communicate with them to explain the motivations behind the divorce.

Marriage guidance


Clarify your goals and priorities

Before taking potential divorce to the next level, it’s also essential to think about your goals and priorities after the separation. By having a vision of your post-divorce life, you can navigate the process with more clarity and purpose.


Look for housing options

If getting divorced in later life includes changes to your living arrangements, one of the initial steps should be exploring housing options that would align with your needs, preferences and financial situation.


Gather essential documents

To make the divorce process as smooth as possible, you might also want to start gathering all the essential documents related to your personal and financial affairs, such as identification paperwork, insurance policies, mortgage documents, and pension statements. Preparing and organising these documents will make it easier for you to discuss future arrangements and plan the next steps.


3. Legal aspects of elderly divorce

Alongside bringing a range of practical and emotional complexities, divorce also comes with a number of legal aspects you should consider before pursuing the process. Therefore, it’s necessary to seek legal advice to understand your entitlements and make informed decisions.

However, when getting divorced in later life, the legal considerations can sometimes be more straightforward to navigate, as older couples commonly don’t have to discuss parenting arrangements in the same way as those with parental responsibility for children under the age of 18.

Divorce in England and Wales

In April 2022, The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 came into force in England and Wales, introducing into law the concept of a ‘no-fault’ divorce, allowing couples to get divorced without assigning grounds and removing the possibility of contesting the divorce. In simple terms, the reform aims to reduce conflict between the divorcing couple and make the process smoother and potentially faster, in some circumstances.

Divorce in Scotland and Northern Ireland

However, divorce legislation differs in Scotland and Northern Ireland, so it’s important to always check the rules that apply specifically to where you live.

Wedding ring

The divorce process typically involves several stages that might differ, depending on whether you fill the application as a sole applicant, or jointly with your current spouse.

To find out more about the conditions applicable to your case, you can visit Citizen’s Advice and follow their detailed checklist on getting a divorce or dissolving a civil partnership


4. Financial considerations of divorce in retirement

As part of the divorce process, it’s also important to think about asset division, including property, savings, pensions and investments.

The law around financial settlements can be very complex, and essentially, the settlement means that couples reach an agreement regarding their assets and financial responsibilities. There are a few factors taken into account when it comes to financial settlement, including the:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Financial contributions to the marriage
  • Future financial needs

If the couples can’t reach a mutual agreement, they can always seek help from solicitors or mediators to resolve the situation without the intervention of the Court. In simple terms, finding a way to fairly share the assets can make the divorce much smoother and quicker. 

However, if the mutual agreement is not possible, the case may need to be handled by the Court, who will make a decision on the financial order, which both parties must agree to abide by.

Helping loved ones manage their finances

If you wish to learn more about helping your elderly loved ones manage their financial assets and other financial decisions in later life, you can read our article on talking to elderly parents about their finances.

Discussing finances


Pension and retirement funds 

When getting divorced in later life, pension and retirement funds are usually a significant part of the couple’s financial assets. Like with other financial assets, seeking help from a solicitor can help you obtain a pension valuation and make a fair split of any pension pots.

While equal division is usually the starting point when dividing retirement funds, there are factors that can affect the final arrangement, including if:

  • The marriage was too short to equally share the pension
  • The pension fund is very small
  • The fund was accumulated before the marriage or after the separation.


Couple arguing


5. Building a new life after divorce

While divorce at a later age may come as a challenging life chapter, it also brings a whole range of new possibilities and opportunities for personal growth. From pursuing new hobbies to making new social connections, building a post-divorce life can be a transformative process, beneficial for both mental and physical wellbeing.

Some of the positive aspects of post-divorce life could include:

The support from family and close friends is invaluable when navigating divorce in later life, and there are a number of ways they can contribute to your overall wellbeing during this period. From offering emotional and practical support to involving you in leisure and social activities, family members and friends play an important role in promoting healing, independence and empowerment.

Promoting safety and independence

If your elderly parents or grandparents recently went through a divorce and started to live independently, you might want to consider using a personal alarm to improve their safety and make sure they can reach help in case of emergency.

You can browse our full range of personal alarms and choose the system that best meets your loved one’s lifestyle and situation. If you have any questions or want more information on the best fall alarm or emergency button for your circumstances, our Independent Living Advisors will be happy to help. You can call them on 0800 085 7371, Monday - Friday, 9am - 5pm.

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Ways to support independent living

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