In sickness and in health? Divorce risk rises when older wives fall ill

New research suggests older couples may be more likely to divorce if the wife becomes ill, which may leave spouses facing serious financial complications.

In the last few months, people in Portland, Oregon, have heard of the recent "gray divorce" trend. There are many factors that can raise the risk of a couple choosing to divorce later in life, and some can be addressed or prevented by couples concerned with preserving their marriages. However, a new study suggests that one uncontrollable factor - personal health - may also significantly increase the likelihood of older couples seeking divorces.

Chronic illness and divorce risk

University of Michigan researchers reviewed data of more than 2,000 marriages collected over a 20-year study period, according to Fox News. At least one member of each couple was older than 50 when the couple was brought into the study. Researchers found that 31 percent of the marriages ended in divorce, and in almost half of those divorces, the wife developed a chronic illness prior to the separation.

The study did not find a significant correlation between husbands becoming sick and divorce. The study only identified four types of illness - cancer, lung disease, heart disease and stroke. So, different patterns may have been evident if other conditions had been included. The study did not delve into why the couples chose to divorce. Personal health may not have been the only factor that contributed to the separation.

Still, based on these findings, researchers concluded that wives who become seriously ill at an older age have a significantly higher likelihood of divorcing. In light of this risk, older spouses should understand how divorcing at a later age can create financial complications and how health concerns can exacerbate those issues.

Financial issues in late divorces

Divorcing after 50 is usually financially complicated, since couples have accumulated significant assets but have lost time to make up for financial missteps. Even healthy older couples must consider several unique issues during property distribution, including the following:

  • How savings intended to support a joint retirement can be stretched to support independent retirements. Couples should remember to include caretaking and medical costs when they calculate retirement expenses.
  • Whether one spouse will need to draw off of the other spouse's Social Security earnings record. People who were married longer than 10 years and divorced longer than 2 are eligible to draw half of an ex-spouse's benefit amount.
  • Whether both spouses still have access to health insurance coverage. Spouses older than 65 may qualify for Medicare, but younger individuals may face significant health insurance expenses following a divorce.

Separating spouses should carefully evaluate these potential expenses before agreeing to any division of assets or before making a decision to divorce.

Anyone who is preparing for a divorce at an older age should consider speaking with an attorney, especially if issues such as serious medical conditions may complicate the separation. An experienced and knowledgeable family law attorney at Yates Family, can help a divorcing individual understand the available options, evaluate the upcoming financial challenges and work toward an appropriate strategy for the future.

Keywords: divorce, gray divorce, retirement