Marriages of more than 30 years are sort of in their own category.
Once you get to the point that you’ve spent three decades together, there’s no question that you’ve accumulated some joint assets.
There are some things that are, generally speaking, easier. It’s unlikely, at this point, that you have minor children together – unless you married very young, waited very long to have children, or adopted later in life. If your children are grown, I’d say that they’re not really an issue as far as custody and visitation is concerned, though you may want to make some allowances (maybe even family therapy) for how difficult the divorce will be on them. Though I’m not a therapist myself, I have read a few articles over the years that suggest that divorce is actually MORE difficult for grown children than it is for younger ones. In any case, my advice would be the same regardless of the age of the children: talk to them, prepare them, and work with them on their issues in the event that things become problematic.
You’re also considerably closer to retirement age after thirty years of marriage, so the assets you do have are often more numerous but also more important in the sense that you don’t have as much time as someone younger to recoup them if you were to get a disadvantageous agreement or court order.
Though these days a woman doesn’t have to look any way she doesn’t want to look, we often use the term ‘gray divorce’ to refer to a divorce that happens later in life. That doesn’t necessarily assume that it’s a divorce after such a long time – after all, older people on their second or third marriages may still be counted among these divorces – but it’s also safe to assume that marriages dissolving after this period of time qualify. If you’re searching for more information, that may be a good keyword to try – even if your hair is most emphatically not gray!
How to get a divorce after more than thirty years of marriage
I think its safe to say that divorce at any point in your life is difficult, but I find that divorce after thirty or more years often hits a little bit differently. I hesitate to make generalizations, but – of the women that I’ve worked with who’ve divorced after such a long period – one of the things they have in common is a strong sense of regret. They regret having given the marriage so long, when it seemed for many years that it was headed towards divorce anyway. They regret the choices they – or their spouse – made, and the ways it drove them apart over the years. They regret trying to make it work for the sake of the kids who, now grown and gone, don’t understand. They regret a million things. Again, its hard to generalize, and I don’t mean to say that you certainly feel any one of these things, but only to suggest that, if you DO feel regret, at this stage, one of the best things you can do is to get professional help. Yes – I mean therapy. Your feelings are real and valid, and I think you need to explore them to work through them and to put yourself in as healthy a space as possible moving forward.
But, regardless, as far as the divorce is concerned, it really makes no difference whether you were married 3 years or 13 years or 30 or, were it possible, 300. You either get divorced by signing a separation agreement or by litigating your case in front of a judge and letting him (or her!) decide for you. There’s nothing special or different; those are the options regardless of the duration of your marriage.
Special considerations for divorce after 30 years
Child Custody and Visitation
There probably is no child custody and/or visitation – so that’s huge! Of course, you may still have children; they’re just probably not minors at this point, so there’s no question of litigating custody and/or visitation, of determining child support, of working with a Guardian ad litem or custody evaluator, and so on.
As far as cost is concerned, two of the biggest wild card issues are spousal support (more on that in a minute) and child custody and visitation. By removing one of those potentially extremely expensive variables, you streamline your case considerably.
Though talking about money is almost always difficult, it’s much easier to assign a value to it. You won’t spend $500k litigating about a house that’s worth $500k; that wouldn’t make sense. But for custody and visitation, well, its priceless – so people do spend literal boatloads of money on custody cases. Remove that – and your case automatically sidesteps an otherwise potentially expensive, difficult, and time consuming landmine. So, that’s good news.
Still, your kids may struggle – and you’re still a parent, probably. So you’ll want to help them deal with the divorce, which may include family therapy (where you can work with your soon to be ex on coming up with strategies to help them adapt and adjust) or even coparenting. Yes – technically, you can still consider yourself coparents, even to grown children, because there are so many family events in a calendar year! From Thanksgiving to Christmas, the annual clam bake, the 4th of July barbecue, the Nags Head beach vacation – there’s a million social events in anyone’s diary that it can feel disorienting to have things suddenly, inexplicably, and irrevocably change. Not only that, but there may be graduations, weddings, baptisms, birthday parties, and other events that you may both wish to attend, too. To the extent that you can, showing your children that you’re able to rise above and be present for them, to celebrate their milestones (and those of their children, your grandchildren), it’ll be really beneficial.
The other ‘wild card’ area is spousal support, and – though its kind of a bear in almost any circumstance – it becomes more complicated the more long term the marriage.
For one thing, we really don’t consider indefinite support unless and until the marriage is a ‘long term’ one – but, even so, these days spousal support almost always terminates when the payor spouse (the higher wage earner) retires, at which point the payee spouse (the lesser earning spouse) can start to collect their retirement income.
That’s a major change from the way things used to be, but it seems its here to stay. So, if your soon to be ex has already retired – or is planning to – it may be that spousal support isn’t really an issue in your case.
Because you’re older, too, you may have your own concerns. Is your physical and mental health sufficient to support working, or going back to work, if you’ve stayed at home? What can you expect to earn? Do you qualify for health care coverage through your work? Are you old enough for Medicare yet? (Just because you’ve been married for 30+ years does NOT mean you’re 65+!)
These days, we see a lot of employment experts involved in spousal support cases. It’s their job to determine whether either party is voluntarily under employed – which means that they’ll look at you, your age, your health, your training and certifications, and basically make predictions about whether you could work or earn more than you currently do.
Your husband’s employment expert will say one thing; yours will try to refute it, and ultimately the judge will decide. While the court can’t force you to work if you don’t want to, the court CAN impute money to you (basically, meaning to assign responsibility to you for earning income at that level, regardless of whether you decide to do it) – which can impact the support that you receive.
Spousal support could, of course, still be awarded. We see spousal support awarded all sorts of ways. The most common is a certain amount of money received monthly for a specific period of time. You could also have a tiered award, that decreases over time, or even a lump sum award (though these can be difficult to calculate). It’s up to you, really, how to structure your spousal support award, if you and your soon to be ex can reach an agreement; otherwise, the judge will decide.
I talked about this a bit in the 20+ year marriages article, but, at some point, retirement becomes much less controversial. Because, after 30+ years, you’re deeply invested in each other, it really becomes less of a concern. The law entitles you to 50% of the marital share (which, I should point out, doesn’t necessarily amount to a flat 50%, as he could have been working before you married or could go on working after your divorce). That’s an entitlement, which is an important word – it means, basically, you’re legally guaranteed this bit of mutually earned benefit. You’d have to take other steps – like signing an agreement waiving your interest in the retirement, or having signed a prenup where you waive interest before you marry – in order to not receive this benefit.
As you’re closer to retirement than people might be in other, shorter term marriages, its also more important. You CAN’T waive it, because you’re not that far from living on a fixed income, and you don’t have sufficient time in the workforce to replace the marital portion. (Well, of course, technically you CAN, but you must not waive it.)
Health Insurance and Social Security
Health insurance is an even bigger deal for longer term marriages, too. Unless you’re military, there’s no provision for continuation of healthcare coverage after entry of the final divorce decree. It’s not because your ex is a jerk, though; its because health insurance companies don’t allow it. You can only insure “family” members, and, once you’re divorced, you become legal strangers. So, health insurance companies don’t extend coverage.
The cost of obtaining health insurance through a private carrier might be something that would be considered in an award of spousal support, especially if getting a job with benefits is not something that is possible for you. It’s not a guarantee, though, and this can be a real budget buster for divorcing women.
You can also look into your options with social security. This is a federal benefit, rather than a state one, so its one we mostly don’t touch in divorce except, basically, to acknowledge its existence. You can look up your eligibility for this benefit online.
Divorce isn’t easy, no matter your age. But given the fact that this has been such a long term marriage, you need to make sure that your needs – both now and in the future – are met as well as possible. You’ll want to talk to an attorney one on one about your specific rights and entitlements, as well as any concerns that you might have.
As always, this guide is meant to describe generalities as it relates to marriages that have lasted for a specific period of time. It’s best to talk to someone about your unique case one on one, as your circumstances may differ.
For more information or to request a copy of our women’s divorce guide, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.