It used to be thought that if a marriage was going to fail, it would fail in the first few years, and that couples who had their Silver, Ruby or even Golden Anniversaries would remain together for the rest of their lives. However that pattern is changing, as we at Beswicks have noticed. More clients are in their 60s or 70s. Divorces among 80 year olds are no longer unheard of. Even 90 year olds are divorcing.

According to the Office for National Statistics 8.9% of people over 65 are now divorced, and the increase in the number of older divorcees coincides with a year on year increase in life expectancy for both men and women. In the past older people were often living alone as a result of bereavement. Now for many of them living alone is a consequence of divorce.

Several features are common to divorce cases involving older couples.

Firstly, the stigma of divorce has long since disappeared. Most of us will know friends or family members who are divorced, and there are plenty of high profile media figures who are regularly divorced.

Secondly, when older couples divorce there are no dependent children to consider. In fact it is often after the children have left home that couples look at each other, and at the state of their relationship, and decide that the marriage has run its course. The “empty nest syndrome” really exists. If couples can’t count on each other to provide support and companionship in later life then they may wonder if there is any reason to stay together.

Thirdly, women in particular have greater financial confidence. That does not mean that they are any more secure financially than they would have been 50 years ago. In fact the opposite is the case. 60 year olds of both sexes will have experienced greater job insecurity, shrinking pension provision and falling property prices. That said a 60 year old woman today will probably have a job, a pension and her own bank account and be quite confident managing her own finances, which makes facing the future without the financial support of a husband is far less daunting than it once was. Changes in divorce law over recent years, in particular the introduction of pension sharing, have greatly improved the financial prospects of divorcing women.

Finally, life expectancy has increased enormously and couples in their 60s who are in good health can expect to have another 25 or 30 years together. That can be a bleak prospect if they no longer have anything in common. Contrast the 19th century when the average marriage lasted less than 10 years in total.

For older couples who decide to divorce it is important to take the best possible advice – not only from solicitors, but also from financial advisors, pensions advisors and even relationship counsellors. Family solicitors can explain what their legal rights are and can help them decide how to reach a mutually acceptable financial settlement, whether by solicitor led negotiation, collaborative family law, mediation or, if all else fails, court proceedings. Financial advisors can advise on the mechanics of dividing the assets, in particular pensions. Relationship counsellors can assist couples to deal with the emotional impact of separating in later life.

If you’d like to talk in confidence about separation and divorce please contact our Family Law solicitors on 01782 205000 or enquiry@beswicks.com