“Gray divorce” — the unfortunately named term for divorce after age 50 — is increasing among baby boomers. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, the divorce rate has more than doubled for people over 50 since the 1990s. The pandemic has seemingly accelerated this number, too. I’m a lawyer by trade, and all the family law attorneys I know have been absolutely swamped with divorce cases since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown.
My parents divorced in their 50s. It wasn’t an amicable divorce; they couldn’t be in the same room together. My father had a heart attack just before they separated and had been showing signs of declining mental health and alcohol abuse. I confess that I was worried about what would happen if he had another major health event — who would take care of him? I never addressed that with my parents, although I wish I had. I was in my early 20s and at the start of my career, and I felt burdened by those fears.
Ultimately, it was my mom, not my dad, who got sick. One of the first things she said when she found out she’d be having brain surgery was, “Don’t call your father.” She didn’t want him to show up and upset her even more than she already was. Despite his issues and their estrangement, he was still my dad, and it was hard to suddenly feel like I had no parents at all. Negotiating a parent’s brain cancer diagnosis and becoming her main caregiver is a major life event for anyone, especially a young caregiver. I felt the lack of elders I could lean on for guidance and help every step of the way.
The financial impact of late-in-life divorce
When a divorce occurs, it can be a path to a better life for all involved. But if you are planning to dissolve your marriage or have recently divorced — whether you have children or not — it is important to include your caregiving plan in the process.