Property division is a key concern for older spouses divorcing in MA

Since gray divorce often strains spouses financially, it is crucial to ensure that property is divided appropriately, given each spouse’s needs.

Over the last few decades, divorce later in life has progressed from being uncommon to fairly prevalent among couples in the North Shore of Boston. Between 1990 and 2010, the rate of so-called "gray divorces" more than doubled, according to The Chicago Tribune. Now, about one-quarter of people over age 50 are divorced.

Unfortunately, older spouses often must navigate unique challenges when divorcing. In Massachusetts, ensuring a fair division of marital assets is especially important, given the serious financial consequences that gray divorce can have.

Costly separations

Gray divorce can prove burdensome financially even for people who were doing well while married. As USA Today notes, two separate retirements may cost up to 50 percent more than one joint retirement. Divorced couples may also face various expenses that they might have avoided while married, such as in-home care.

Compounding this problem, older adults have less time to work and make up for these new expenses. Even after delaying retirement or scaling down their expectations, some people may still struggle financially after gray divorce.

The Chicago Tribune notes that just 4 percent of married couples over the age of 63 live below the poverty line. However, 14 percent of divorced men and 30 percent of divorced women in the same age group live in poverty. These figures underscore the devastating financial impacts that divorce late in life can have.

Outlook in Massachusetts

Given these challenges, it is critical for property to be divided fairly during gray divorces. In Massachusetts, this is especially a concern, since some spouses may be less likely to receive spousal support after recent reforms. Spouses who were married less than 20 years are no longer eligible for permanent alimony. Additionally, the amount of time that a spouse can receive alimony is now restricted based on the duration of the marriage.

This makes an equitable distribution of property essential for an economically disadvantaged spouse. In Massachusetts, judges may take several financial factors into account when dividing property, including:

  • Each spouse's sources of income and total income
  • The estate of each spouse
  • The outstanding liabilities and overall financial need of each spouse
  • Each spouse's ability to acquire more income in the future

To facilitate a fair division of property, spouses must ensure that all marital assets are known and considered during this process. Spouses also must present their circumstances and financial need accurately.

Improving divorce outcomes

Many of the assets that must be divided during gray divorce are complex. For example, pension plans and certain other retirement plans can only be divided through a highly technical legal order. Additionally, determining an appropriate division of these assets can be difficult. Considering this, most spouses can benefit from seeking legal guidance prior to a gray divorce.

A family law attorney may be able to advise a spouse of his or her rights and responsibilities during the divorce. An attorney may also be able to assist a spouse in pursuing a fair and reasonable settlement.