Gray Divorces on the Rise

This past Sunday the Sac Bee had a interesting article about the growing “gray divorce” phenomena, where married couples split after twenty or more years of marriage.  A recent high profile example of this trend was the surprising breakup of Al and Tipper Gore, high school sweethearts who spent spending more than forty years together.

Overall, divorce rates are declining for those born in the early 1960’s and later.  The national divorce rate has dropped from a peak of 5.3 per 1,000 people in 1981 to 3.5 today, matching the rate in 1970.  A major exception to this trend are old baby boomers.  According to the Census Bureau, in 2008 one-forth of all new divorces involved couples that were married at least twenty years.  In addition, in 2008 about fifty percent of all divorced people were members of the baby boomer generation.  A study by sociologist Andrew Cherlin found that marriages of 40 years or more account for 4% of all divorces while marriages of 30-39 years now constitute 8% of all filers.

Older people often get divorced for the same reasons as younger folks.  Often couples simply grow apart as they age and in different directions.  Especially after their children are grown and no longer living at home, “empty nest” married couples sometimes find they no longer have many shared interests, goals or values.  Sometimes older couples split due to infidelity or abuse.  Experts have identified two additional factors that are also fueling the gray divorce trend.  First, life expectancy is much higher.  In prior generations, by the time the children were grown, a couple in their sixties may have felt they were in the sunset of their years.  Now, sixty is the “new forty”.  Many boomers can expect to live productive lives well into their 80’s.  There’s a feeling of “What now?” among empty nesters and many decide the path to greater fulfillment means starting an entirely new chapter in their lives.  Second, overall, there is greater acceptance of divorce in society.

Of course, the main issues that older couples face in a divorce action are different than younger people.  When younger couples split, the primary focus is often on child custody, visitation and support.  Frequently their assets are minimal although their debts can be substantial.  In contrast, with a “gray divorce” the emphasis is usually on property division and spousal support.  Older couples with long term marriages frequently have acquired homes and have substantial savings, investments and retirement benefits.  Some couples will have the added complication of a business.  Often these assets are deemed 100% community property, meaning that husband and wife are entitled to equal shares upon division.  However, that principle is deceptively simple.  In reality, careful attention must be paid to the valuation of these assets.  Husband and wife often disagree on the value of assets and sometimes the characterization of property, that is, whether is community, separate or a mixed asset.  To resolve these issues, it is often necessary to obtain professional assistance from experts such as appraisers, forensic accountants and pension benefit specialists or actuaries.  The division of retirement benefits can be particularly thorny, and often a specialized document (and court order) will be required called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).

If you are considering a divorce, please feel free to contact me for a initial consultation (e-mail is best).  We will meet in my office and discuss your goals, issues in your case and how general divorce concepts apply to them, any trouble spots I might see, and how the court procedure works.  In addition, I’ll try to answer any questions that you have.  There is no obligation and the initial meeting is discounted to $100 for up to an hour.  I am confident you will find the consultation very helpful and informative.  And remember, the earlier in the process you contact me the better.  In fact, the best time to consult is me is before any paperwork has been filed!

— Michael

P.S. – Andrew Cherlin recently published a book that delves into recent U.S. marital trends in great detail.  It’s called The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America TodayGiven the relative instability of marriages, the data suggests some surprising application to child custody disputes.    

Photo Credit: “Waiting for God” by *martin* on Flickr under Creative Commons 2.0 (Attribution Generic).

Some Interesting Facts and Figures About Marriage

Some time ago in the Sacramento Bee I saw an article that contained some interesting Facts & Figures about Marriage and Relationships.  I ripped the article out, but failed to post it here until now.  As someone who works in family law, I’m always interested in these sorts of statistics!  I updated the original Bee list to include information related to same sex marriages in California..

  • 753,000:  Estimated number of households in the Sacramento metropolitan area.
  • 374,000:  Estimated number of those households shared by married couples.
  • 46,000:  Estimate of those households that are shared by a man and woman.  Of these 3,300 are shared by two women and 2,940 are shared by two men.
  • 8 Years:  The average length of first marriages that end in divorce in the United States.  (Note that in California, a “long term marriage” under the Family Code is 10 years.  This has important implications for  spousal support!)
  • 3.5 Years:  Median time between divorce and a second marriage.
  • 12 of men & 13% of women:  Proportions of those over 15 years of age who had married twice by 2004.
  • 3 of men and women had married three or more times by 2004.
  • 58 percent of women 15 and older had married only once as of 2004.
  • 54 percent of American men had married once as of 2004.
  • 38 percent of men in their 50’s had been divorced by 2004.
  • 41 percent of women in their 50’s had been divorced by 2004.
  • About 33 percent of men and 25 percent of women reported never having married.
  • 28.4:  Median age at marriage for men in California.  (Nationally it is 27.5.)
  • 26.2:  Median age at marriage for women in California.  (Nationally it is 25.9.)
  • 45,515:  Number of domestic-partner declarations filed in California with the Secretary of State’s office between 2000 and September of 2008.  (Note that domestic partnerships are still available in California even after Proposition 8.  Domestic partners have many of the same legal protections and benefits as married spouses in California).
  • 5,335:  Number of terminations of domestic partnerships filed with the Secretary of State’s office.
  • 18,000:  Approximate number of same sex marriages validated in California before the passage of Proposition Eight.
  • 4037:  Number of marriage licenses issued to same sex couples on the day before the State Supreme Court issued its stay.
  • 57 percent of same sex couples in California were women.
  • 74 percent of same sex couples in California were over the age of 35.
  • 69 percent of same sex couples in California held at least one college degree.
 Some of the statistics above were obtained at the Alternatives to Marriage Project at  This is an interesting and worthy national nonprofit organization advocating for equality and fairness for unmarried people, including people who are single, who choose not to marry, cannot marry, or live together before marriage.  Despite being one of the fasting growing demographic groups in America, single people often suffer discrimination in various forms.  For instance, they may be taxed at a different rate, experience difficulty obtaining housing or not have equal access to health care benefits.  A more complete list of current issues and public policy concerns can be found here.  The group is not against marriage per se, they simply feel there are other legitimate lifestyle options for families that people may want to consider.  It is important to note that this progressive organization is “open to everyone, including singles, couples, married people, people in relationships with more than two people, and people of all genders and sexual orientations.”  To get involved, click the banner below!

— Michael 

P.S. — I have started a new Legal Technology blog also on Xanga called “Law Tech Geek.”  I imagine it will mostly appeal to attorneys who are interested in learning more about how technology relates to law practice management.  However, it might have some interest to techies.  Everyone is welcome to check it out!

Other Sources:  US Census Bureau, California Secretary of State’s Office, crediting Associated Press, Wikipedia “Same Sex Marriage in California.”

Photo credit:  “Finnish Summer Night” by Wili Hybrid (creative commons license)