“When you were young, and your heart was an open book…you used to say live and let live…”
– Paul McCartney, Live and Let Die
Life comes at you in waves.
When you were a teen, you graduated from high school, and many of you went to college with a lot of your friends in waves. It’s the nature of life. At certain times you and your peer group will go through specific cycles.
If you went to college, you graduated in waves in your early 20s. Then you all landed your first “big boy” job in your chosen profession. Soon after, many of you started engaging in longer courtships, and your circle of friends became smaller and tighter.
In your 20s, life seemed limitless. The world was your playground, and any one of you could set the world on fire at a moment’s notice.
Adventures came in waves, whether it was a spur of the moment road trip to Vegas or New York City. Or the trip of a lifetime to Europe, Asia or South America.
As your 20s came to a close, there was a wave of settling down. Of focusing on your career. Of getting married and having kids.
Andrea Silenzi, host of “Why Oh Why,” a podcast that explores dating in a digital age, believes that the cultural expectation of turning 30 can be a “deadline for adulthood.” Turning 30 might also mean a moment when expectations for both sexes align. “It’s the point you have to declare yourself a forever child, or an adult ready for adult decisions. There’s a reason why things happen around that age.”
Depending on your life, you could have attended a wave of marriages, and in many cases, finding love and getting married to the girl or guy of your dreams. That was followed soon thereafter by waves and waves of you and your best friends having kids. Then there were waves of buying houses, playdates, and the start of school.
Your career may have started to take off. More added responsibilities. Life for everyone became more complicated. A lot of the time, you were still happy. But secretly, a lot of the time, you were not.
Soon you were longing for something else. A different life. Little things in your marriage became big things in your marriage. It built over time, and you started to keep score…until one day you or your spouse decided–it was time to get a divorce.
Unfortunately, divorce can come in waves, too. Call it “cycles of singledom” if you will.
Sometimes it happens earlier in life. Other times, it slowly builds like a cancer over time.
For the most part, people don’t get divorced in their 20s. That’s probably because most people aren’t even married yet. Consider, the median age of first marriage is 27.4 for women and 29.5 for men. It’s after those ages that the divorces begin.
Divorce is not a “one size fits all” proposition. Just like every relationship, every divorce is different. The age when divorce in your life happens plays a significant role in how you cope with the trauma and how you can heal and recover.
Divorce at 30 looks a helluva lot different than divorce at 60.
Based on your age, here are some things to think about when you’re going through a divorce.
- How to Survive Divorce in your 30s
- How to Survive Divorce in your 40s
- How to Survive Divorce in your 50s
- How to Survive Divorce in your 60s
How to Survive Divorce in your 30s
If you’re heading for divorce or you’re already in the midst of a divorce in your 30s, the good news is that you’re still young enough to have a fair amount of time to rebuild your life when your split is finalized.
You may also still have remnants of your Superman complex. You know, that thing that makes it feel like you’re invincible and that you’re going to live forever. By your 30s, that complex has faded and replaced by the harsh realities of your mortality in most cases. But there are still a few “carpe diem” types who live for today because they’re going to live forever.
That Superman complex has been replaced by several of the waves mentioned above. By now, you may have young children. If you’re lucky, you’ve been able to figure out a way to buy a house. Your career is on the upswing. And you probably have a relatively sizable circle of friends who are active in the neighborhood. You’re learning the art of volunteering for your children’s various activities like coaching Little League, putting on PTA fundraisers, and the like.
Life moves fast at this age because you have a lot of waves and a lot of layers to contend with. So much so that sometimes you forget to be a good husband or a good wife. It happens. Priorities and life force a reshuffling of your preferences and the amount of attention you can give to your relationships.
You may handle things well because you’re still young enough that you have the energy to juggle a mountain of tasks and responsibilities. But if you’re not careful, you develop bad habits or run out of gas when it comes to nurturing your relationship with your spouse.
You change. Your spouse changes. It is the nature of life. And soon, the person you married is not the person who you are with anymore.
The talk of divorce in your 30s can be shocking. Others may see it coming before you do (although this can be true at any age). When a split actually happens, emotions can be especially raw because you have less life experience. You care more about your social standing. Your circle of friends means a lot more. You worry how a split will impact your small children.
Ahhhhhhh, children. Will they take it hard?
Yes. No doubt about it.
Will they survive divorce?
Yes. Also, no doubt about it.
Kids are resilient. Kids bounce. It’s the parents that can go “splat!” in a divorce.
Of course, how you treat your children during the process has a lot to do with it. Never argue with your spouse in front of your kids. Unless there’s abuse present in a marriage, find a way for both of you to be actively involved as parents. The courts like it that way for a reason, after all.
Don’t use small children as bargaining chips to get what you want. You’ll not only piss off your spouse; you could piss off a judge as well. And if you do, well good luck with that.
It may be difficult, but come up with a parenting plan that is both sensible and fair. If you don’t, the courts will.
Is that what you want? A stranger to decide how your life and your relationship with your children will be?
Figure out expenses as it relates to kids. Who’s paying for health insurance? What about educational and extra-curricular expenses? There is a laundry list of details to be figured out.
This will include child support. Many states have formulas in place to take the arguments out of the courts. Both parent’s incomes are plugged in, expenses and custody issues are factored, and a dollar figure is produced. There can be variances to that amount, but you’ll need to mount a good argument to move the needle.
Aside from children, when you’re in your 30s, you have started to accumulate some assets, but unless you’re exceptional, you won’t have a huge pension to divide, and the equity in a house won’t be as substantial as it will later in life. That can make a division of assets much more straightforward. Larger amounts can lead to larger disagreements. And in those cases, it’s the lawyers who generally win.
Because you have fewer assets and you’ve been married a shorter time, it may be possible to go through an uncontested divorce and not involve lawyers at all. This “kitchen table” method means you’ll have to cooperate and have a certain amount of trust with the person you can’t wait to get away from (ironic, isn’t it?), but if you can keep it together, your divorce will go much faster and cost a lot less.
Understand that collaboration is always preferable to an all-out war, no matter what age you get divorced.
Another thing to consider with a divorce in your 30s is that you may have been a two-income home, and because salaries and paychecks are less when you’re younger, you could be more financially at-risk than you could be later in life. That could lead you to a very spartan lifestyle, lots of trade-offs or in some cases, bankruptcy. You’ve got to ride herd on your expenses until you determine what your income and outgo are going to be during and after your divorce.
In some cases, one spouse may have agreed to be a stay-at-home spouse or support their husband or wife in the pursuit of an advanced degree. That can also put financial pressures on a young married couple and throw a wrench into how to survive following a divorce.
There may be sizable student debt to consider, or one spouse may have taken herself or himself out of the workforce entirely to raise a young child and now has to juggle working part-time and parenting part-time after divorce.
All of these things can lead to the accumulation of considerable debt, which also must be split in a divorce.
Socially, divorce in your 30s can be challenging as well. You may be conflicted about going out with friends or on a date on a Saturday night instead of staying home with your kids. There’s always that awkward possibility of running into your spouse’s friends or parents from your child’s playgroup. You may be able to navigate deftly, but that’s not always the case.
But the issue of possibly being judged for a previous marriage isn’t the only thing 30-somethings have to face. It is also more difficult to meet someone going into your 30s since the number of available partners has diminished by this age. Many people have already coupled-up, and those friends are less likely to want to go out and help you navigate the social waters of being single.
Having friends who are mostly in relationships can also feel lonely because there aren’t people in your social circle who can relate to you. So, you may spend more nights home alone than you’d prefer.
In your 30s, you should still look to the future. Use your divorce experience as a learning tool about what to do or not do in your next relationship. Don’t let the issues you faced in their previous relationship affect your outlook on subsequent relationships.
And don’t start dating again until you’re ready. A bad rebound relationship will only make things worse. You should be able to talk about the experience of your previous marriage in matter-of-fact terms, knowing what led to the breakup, what you learned, and what you will do differently in the future. If the divorce resulted from something like being cheated on or abandoned, it is especially vital to process feelings so that you can regain your self-esteem.
The bottom line is that time is still on your side when you get divorced in your 30s. There’s no denying that divorce at this age can be complicated and at times, overwhelming. The key is to remain calm, take things as they come, learn the art of compromise and understand you’re going to win some battles at this age, and sometimes, you’re going to lose, too.
How to Survive Divorce in your 40s
In your 40s, the stakes are raised.
There are probably more layers in your life. Your awareness of your mortality has set in. Your career path has been underway for some time.
You have more assets. Fewer debts (hopefully). And you’re more established in your community.
Chances are you have a smaller, but a more tight-knit circle of friends.
It may also be a time when you start asking in earnest, “Is this all there is?” or “Can I do better than this?”
That nagging feeling may be fleeting. Or it may start as a vague and distant drumbeat that only gets louder the older that you get.
Like it or not, especially in an age of social media, you either consciously or subconsciously play the comparison game. Who lives in a nicer house? Who takes better vacations than you? It’s a dangerous game that you’ll never win.
Worst of all, you now have several people in your life that have already experienced a failed marriage, or you know their marriage is on the rocks and falling out of orbit. “It’s only a matter of time for them,” you tell yourself. Sometimes, people on the outside can see it before people on the inside can see it.
And then, it happens to you.
You become the talk of neighborhood BBQs, at kids’ soccer games, and chance meetings at the grocery store.
You may fight the feelings at first, but marriage becomes less and less gratifying, and somewhere along the way, layers be damned, you make the decision to divorce. It may be a triggered event (your spouse has an affair), or it may be a gradual waning, an itch that gets worse and worse until you feel you have no choice but to scratch it.
You tell yourself if you pull the trigger now, you’re still young enough you can find somebody else. You can lead the happy life you were promised in all those magazines, TV shows, and online blogs.
Is it more difficult to untangle two lives at this age? You bet it is.
Can it be done? Yes.
How easily? It depends.
More assets, more layers, more children, and more of everything that you’ve worked hard to accumulate now become a shared responsibility that you must disengage from.
It’s the price for your future happiness that you’ll have to pay. But depending on your situation, it may be well worth the time and the effort for such a substantial change.
If you have children, they’ll be in tune with an unhappy household. Angry and resentful parents can’t be fully functional when it comes to their kids. And as difficult as it is to be a single parent, ultimately it will be healthier for them in the long run. Chances are your children are a bit older now, so they’ll be better equipped to handle the changes that come with divorce. If they’re teens, they’ll be out of the house in a few years in most cases, anyway.
If you’ve been distant as a parent, it’s also a chance to re-engage and redefine your relationship with your children. They’re more independent now, but they still need you, in some ways, now more than ever. Keep in mind, no matter what the age, they are always looking at you as a role model–either as how to act or how not to act. Keep your shit together when it comes to your kids. You owe them that as a parent.
With a divorce behind you, it’s possible to shift more attention to your career as well. These can be your peak earning years, and if you’re good at what you do, you can still enjoy upward mobility in your job. Focusing on your work is also good therapy. The satisfaction you get from your job can offset the setbacks and negative mental energy you must put out when dealing with a failing marriage.
You can also reenergize your personal life as well. Maybe there are things you’ve always wanted to do, but your spouse had zero interest in, so you either put those desires on the back burner or extinguished the thought of them completely. If you’ve always wanted to try surfing, hiking, gardening, gourmet cooking, or turning a hobby into a small business, you can do it now.
As you recover from the financial and emotional blows of divorce in your 40s, you can also take time to reflect on the next act of your life. It is a time to create new goals, redefine existing relationships, and seek out new relationships. Dating will be both terrifying and a thrill, depending on how you approach it.
Part of redefining who you are means you can be more selfish with your time and your relationships. It’s okay to say “no” if something or someone does not feel right for you at this point in your life.
In fact, it can be quite liberating as you strip away the unneeded layers that you thought you needed as a married person. Be mindful of the fact that you can’t save other people from drowning until you first learn how to save yourself.
The flip side of this is that you will need to force yourself not to be lonely. Develop new habits. Join groups. Volunteer. Meet new people. If you don’t, you’ll be the guest of honor at your very own pity party for much longer than you need to be.
When you remove the negativity of a bad relationship from your life, you’ll also be much nicer to be around. People pick up on things, and the more you send a smile out to the world, the more smiles you’ll get in return.
And don’t date until you’re ready to date. Some people jump right back into the pool. Others enjoy the freedom for an extended period. Do what’s best for you and limit taking advice from well-intentioned friends who may think they know what’s best for you.
As far as dating goes, consider this. Most men and women don’t entirely put the grief and the emotional turmoil of divorce behind them until after they’ve started dating. There’s something to say for knowing you’re still desirable that goes a long way toward rebuilding your confidence.
As you can guess, with stress removed from your life, you’ll also be healthier, both physically and mentally. Marital stress is a killer. Stagnation and feeling like there’s no way out can gnaw on you and wear you down over time. When you release from this bond, a downward spiral can quickly become an upward and healthier spiral in your life.
Financially, you’re going to face some challenges. You may end up paying child support and alimony. That’s just part of the cost of divorce. But those arrangements are only temporary, and if you love your children, support payments should be a no brainer for you.
Will you have to adjust your finances to match your new reality? Yes, you will.
You’re dividing one household into two. Costs for both ex-spouses are going to be more. But by now, you’ve hopefully developed a nice nest egg and healthy investing and saving habits that you can modify to your new reality. Reassess your retirement goals, adjust your investing mix. Seek professional help from a CDFA or other financial planning pro to assist you.
In the aftermath of divorce in your 40s, as long as the divorce was not a nuclear bomb that went off, there’s a higher chance you’ll eventually mellow and stay friends with your ex. Getting a divorce earlier in life tends to be an all or nothing proposition, and you’re inclined to be more emotional and burn bridges as a result.
But in your 40s, you are more reasoned, and you understand long-range implications better. This is especially critical if you have children, and there is an on-going co-parenting situation to preserve in a civilized way.
It takes time to shift from your multi-layered and married environment to that of a single person in your 40s.
Give yourself that time.
Make the best choices you can with the given information at hand. It’s okay to be unsure of yourself as you redefine your life. But don’t let being scared keep you away from the next phase of your life, one that might bring you more happiness than you ever thought you could find.
How to Survive Divorce in your 50s
The good news is the divorce rate in America is declining.
The bad news is that’s not the case for people 50 and older.
Just 20 years ago, one in 10 spouses who split was age 50 or older. Today, according to Dr. Susan Brown, professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University and co-author of The Gray Divorce Revolution, it is one in four.
Essentially, people are living longer, but that also means they’re experiencing more years and opportunities to grow apart from each other. And that’s exactly what’s happening.
Couple this with the fact that there are more women than ever in the workforce, and you now have more women than ever who are financially independent and capable of handling the rigors of a divorce.
As if that’s not enough, the social acceptance of divorce at any age is now more prevalent than ever. There is less and less of an imperative to stay together through thick and thin, ‘til death do you part, than ever before.
Not only are there unique challenges associated with a “gray divorce” there are your own individual life challenges to deal with as well. Health issues after you turn 50 can have a big impact on all parts of your life, including your marriage.
For many people, there is also a greater accumulation of wealth after 50, so there are more options for splitting a bigger asset pie. You’re going to need it too, because when you’re single rather than when two of you share expenses, costs are 40% to 50% higher than for couples on a per person basis, according to the American Academy of Actuaries.
Also driving the financial aspects of divorce after 50 is the fact that you now have less time to recover losses, pay off debts, and manage your retirement funds. You may be approaching the end of your peak earning years. Or you could already be the victim of an age-related job loss.
Things are especially tough for women. After a divorce, household income drops by about 25% for men and more than 40% for women, according to U.S. government statistics. As women’s life expectancy climbs into the 80s, a divorced woman can find herself living a lot longer with a lot less.
Depending on how much wealth you’ve accumulated and under what circumstances, unraveling assets and deciding who gets what and how much can be ugly. In most cases, homes and retirement accounts are the biggest asset decisions that you make. Often, you can trade value for one against the other. But that assumes there is a level of cooperation taking place.
That’s not always the case. At this stage, it’s not uncommon for one spouse to hide assets from the other. Not only is this not a good idea, if you’re doing it and you get caught, you’re going to incur the wrath of a judge and pay a heavy price in a settlement. In some cases, you may actually face criminal charges as well.
Holding on to the family home can be a tough choice. The emotional attachment can be especially strong if you’ve lived there for several years. It may also be a priority if you have children to ensure minimal disruption in their lives by keeping their home intact until they move out. But holding on to the family home can turn out to be a disaster because, on your own, the family home can quickly become a money pit.
There are several options when it comes to disposing of a home, either through a buyout, sale, or deferred sale (aka co-ownership).
Related: How to Value the House and Split Home Equity in a Divorce
Because the stakes are raised, you need to fully understand the property laws of your state in a divorce. You either live in a community property or an equitable division state and understanding what governs a division of assets is going to be critical to protecting your future at an older age.
When you make these financial decisions, you need to be aware of the tax implications as well. Is it smarter to take a lump-sum payment from a spouse or ask for monthly alimony? If you’re the recipient of part of your spouse’s retirement account, how much of a tax will you have to pay on the gains? Child support can also result in some tax issues. Consult with an accountant or CDFA to determine what makes the most sense before you divide things up in a settlement.
Divorcing after age 50 also brings the big issue of health insurance to light. Chances are, you’ve been covered under one policy by a spouse, perhaps for many years. You’ve gotten used to the doctors you see, the amount of co-pays and deductibles you need to be responsible for and although it’s been there, you may have just not thought much about it.
But now, you need to do so.
If your spouse has covered you under their policy, when your marriage ends, so does that coverage. Employers will no longer cover an ex-spouse. When children are involved, any settlement will take into account how healthcare coverage is provided to them. But that does not mean provisions are always made for a spouse. Like many other issues, you’ll either need to negotiate that or come up with other means.
You may be able to keep your insurance through COBRA, but that’s generally an expensive option. You can buy coverage through a health exchange but expect some sticker shock. You can have your spouse cover health premiums as part of alimony. If you’re old enough, you may already qualify for Medicare. If you have little or no resources, then Medicaid may be an option as well. The bottom line is, after 50 you can’t always easily afford healthcare, but you definitely can’t afford to be without it either.
If you have been a stay-at-home spouse, you may need to consider re-entering the workforce. Some forms of alimony provide for you to get training and education to improve your skills so that you’ll be more employable. If you’re the primary custodian of your children, even if they’re older, this may not be possible yet, but you’ll need to think about how you’re going to generate income, especially if your alimony payments are for a fixed duration only.
It may be possible to use your existing network and tap into organizations you have volunteered for as a way to spread the word you’re actively looking for a job. You’ll need to be aggressive and follow up every lead to bring as much stability to your new life as quickly as possible.
Rather than go through an expensive and protracted divorce that will only put lots of money into lawyers’ pockets and leave you with less at the end is to consider a collaborative divorce. If you’re able, think about an uncontested divorce or a retaining a mediator who will focus only on specific problems that are holding up the completion of your divorce. It costs less and is more private.
At this age, you should be firmly focused on preserving every dollar you can. Anger will cost you more than cooperation will. Swallow your pride and be smart if you can.
How to Survive Divorce in your 60s
Divorce after 60?
Who does that?
Actually, a lot of people do, according to the experts. So, if you’re facing divorce in your 60s, you are not alone.
By the time you turn 60, you’ve lived the majority of your life. There is more of a focus on living out your remaining years with the highest possible quality of life. Sometimes, that means jettisoning a person you may have been married to for a long, long time.
It happens because a lot of the time, the person you married way back when is no longer the person you are married to now. Change in people, and in marriages, is inevitable.
If you thought you faced challenges with a divorce earlier in your life, they might be nothing compared to the challenges you face with a divorce after 60.
Your health is probably going to be in some decline. Your earning power is nearing the end of your working life. Your children are probably grown and gone to face their challenges—the empty nest syndrome is real, and it is common. With no children at home to focus on, what was once a buffer has been stripped away. Two people who have been holding on and focusing on other human beings are now left to focus exclusively on each other. A lot of times that is an ugly reality.
The other thing that causes divorce in your 60s is a disparity in the health between you and your spouse. If one spouse is always sickly and complaining, not wanting to venture out and enjoy life, that can be a real buzz kill at this age for many marriages. It’s true you did agree to stay with your spouse in “sickness and in health.” But in practical terms, many people simply don’t live up to that part of the union.
Even when both spouses are healthy, one spouse may decide they only want a passive lifestyle at this point in their lives, opting to stay close to home more often than not. The other spouse may be a go-getter who wants to travel the world, eat at great restaurants, get dressed up, and go out on weekends. It can either be exhausting or invigorating depending on which side of the aisle you fall.
In your 60s, your circle of friends may be small and getting smaller as health issues and death overtake some of them as well. Some people you have gladly tossed aside for a variety of reasons. You’re more guarded with your time and who you associate with, as you should be.
But all of these things can work against you if you go through a divorce after 60.
Aside from a threat to your financial security, you also have the big issue of who is going to take care of you as you grow older. In some cases, if you’re lucky, that will be an extended family. But for many people, time and distance have caused them to grow apart from blood relatives. It happens.
Caregiving can also be a financial issue as well. If you become incapacitated or require advanced care, it can drain your resources and leave you at the mercy of a system that may not be able to do a good job of taking care of you.
This puts a premium on a newly divorced person after 60 to come up with a logical, realistic and coherent financial plan that will extend into the next 10 or 20 years.
Fortunately, by this time, many homes are paid off, and there may be considerable retirement funds available to divide. Being careful with these funds is the key to protecting yourself.
Also, you could be looking at financial assistance from Social Security. You may currently already be drawing funds from the government, but this will be one safety net to help you plan accordingly.
Because the preservation of wealth is so critical, mediation makes a ton of sense for people getting a divorce in their 60s. With mediation, you don’t waste time or money. You can be done settling things in six months or less, instead of dragging out divorce details for a year or more. A mediated divorce could cost you less than $10,000 instead of a contested divorce that could run you upwards of six figures.
As you can guess, going this route is also going to save you a lot of stress, which at age 60 can shave years off of your life if you’re not careful.
If you were a stay-at-home spouse and married for ten years or longer, you can opt to receive half of the higher-earning spouse’s Social Security at full retirement age. This does not change the Social Security benefit amount that the higher earning spouse receives. You will need to do some math to determine if you fall into this category.
Believe it or not, longer lifespans are also contributing to divorce in people 60 or older.
According to data compiled by the Social Security Administration:
- A man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3.
- A woman turning age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 86.6.
- About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90.
- One out of 10 will live past age 95.
This means many people still think they have a lot of living left to do. So, they ask themselves why they should spend their remaining time on earth with someone who doesn’t make them happy, and may actually make them miserable.
One thing to be especially on guard for after a divorce in your 60s is the issue of depression. Post-divorce depression can happen at any age, but as the body changes, depression can creep in where there was none before due to hormonal changes, other illnesses, thoughts of loneliness, and a general sense of hopelessness at the prospect of being alone later in life.
Divorce after 60 usually means you’re experiencing lots of other losses, too. Children have busy lives of their own. Your parents are either gone or need more help. Friends are busy. The world is flying forward, and many often feel left behind.
If you feel depressed, get help. See a doctor. Visit a therapist. Talk out your problems. See possibilities instead of roadblocks. The hardest part is admitting you’re depressed. Taking the first step may feel like an impossible thing to do. But you do have a choice.
Some Final Thoughts About Surviving Divorce at any Age
Starting over whether you’re 35, 65 or any age in between is not easy.
In the beginning, you may have a good day here and there. And you may be crushed by things that never bothered you before.
At some point, you will bottom out. It’s different for everyone going through a divorce.
And then, you will start to heal.
Divorce at every age presents unique challenges, but the biggest challenge is getting your mind right. You can’t force it, or you’ll wind up in a worse place than where you started.
Take stock about where you are in your life. Each age along the divorce continuum does offer difficult choices, but it also presents opportunities to restart your life in ways you may not have imagined.
As hard as it may be, when you’re going through a divorce, count your blessings and not the number of candles on your birthday cake.