The Office for National Statistics (ONS), in an analysis of the results of the 2011 census, has reported that 9% of people aged over 65 were divorced in 2001, which is double the number from that age group that divorced in 2001. They warn that divorce in later years is especially damaging because “relationships are particularly important for older people as they are more likely to have lost people close to them and need daily assistance.”
The reasons for this rise are complex, but can broadly be said to result from:
- Longevity: 65 is no longer considered old. People are living longer and living better. Many work into their seventies and still look forward to a long retirement.
- Later marriage: the ONS also report that the mean age for marriage in the UK in 2012 (this includes second and subsequent marriages) is 36.5 for men and 34 for women. This is eight years older for both sexes than in 1972. If marriages on average last as long as they ever did then a rise in the age of divorcees is unsurprising.
- Finances: the growing financial independence of women, who are more likely than in the past to be reaching pension age with good incomes secured by long and successful careers. Even where this is not the case, a number of important decisions in the Family Court over recent years will ensure that they receive what they perceive to be a fair share of the assets accrued during their marriage.
The divorce laws are no different for more elderly divorcing couples. However, the financial impact upon them certainly can be more significant as they have less time and opportunity to acquire further assets or supplement their income in a way that a younger couple might have. Their asset pot is more likely to be finite with both parties having retired and with little or no opportunity to add wealth. As with every divorcing couple, the income and assets that provided a home and lifestyle for them jointly will then have to be divided to provide for two separate households and, in the vast majority of cases, both parties have to accept significant changes in their lifestyle.
Although the rise in ‘Silver Divorce’ is real, it is not the only story. The ONS further reported that the largest percentage increase in the number of marriages between 2011 and 2012 for men and women aged 65 to 69, rising by 25% and 21% respectively. However, the rise of the older divorced population to nearly 800,000 people has brought warnings that many lives will be damaged. A study last autumn form the International Longevity Centre UK said there were increased prospects of loneliness and premature dependency together with “negative health and money repercussions”.
Divorce is never easy whatever your age, but with the right help and support from friends and family and good legal advice divorce shouldn’t be the end of the world. For most people, even if it takes them a while to appreciate it, it is often the start of a whole new exciting chapter and there is no reason why that should be any different for the over 65s.