Grey Divorce and Its Implications

Posted on October 27, 2023 by Anita Vayanos

Unified Lawyers Anita Vayanos

Anita Vayanos

Anita Vayanos is Special Counsel in Family Law at Unified Lawyers and has worked exclusively in Family Law since 2000. In addition, Anita has also completed the academic qualifications for Family Dispute Resolution (FDRP) as a mediator. Her many years of experience provides a solid foundation in understanding of the Family Law legislation, court processes, mediation processes and strategy.

Relationships are always evolving. Sometimes these changes lead to a strengthening of the relationship and at other times it may lead to the end of a marriage.

In recent years, as family lawyers, we’ve noticed a trend towards “grey divorce” in Australia. Referring to divorces occurring later in life, the rise of the grey divorce has seen more couples over the age of 55 divorcing and moving forward through their retirement no longer in a marital union.

Choosing to untangle the marital knot after having weathered many of life’s storms together over the years is an intriguing trend that may just be a sign of societal changes.

Like the end of any marriage, grey divorce has its complications and matters that must be considered and, in this article, our divorce lawyers have put some information together about the potential causes for the rise of grey divorce in Australia, as well as the emotional, financial and legal implications that need to be considered.

What is grey divorce?

The term grey divorce, sometimes also referred to as grey separation, has become increasingly prevalent in discussions surrounding marital dissolution in Australia.

The term refers to the age of people getting divorced being in a higher range, like couples aged in their mid-50s and beyond, choosing to part ways. If you’ve gone a little grey before this time, don’t get concerned, it doesn’t mean divorce is necessarily on the horizon.

According to the most recent release of marriage and divorce statistics by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, for couples over the age of 55 there has been a steady increase in the average numbers of those separating and divorcing over the last few years.

For example, in the age range of 55 to 59, in 2019 the average number of divorces for males was 6.6 per 1,000 population and 4.9 per 1,000 for females. Over the course of two years, this has increased to 7.4 for males and 5.6 for females for 2021.

The next age range of 60-64 saw a slight increase in the number of divorces for both males and females in that age range over the same period too.

Why do older couples divorce?

While younger divorces might often be attributed to evolving life goals or getting married too young, what is it that drives couples who have been together for long periods of time to divorce?

Separation or divorce happen for all kinds of reasons. Some potential factors that could have an impact in the increase of the number of older couples divorcing include:

  • Increased longevity means that couples may have to face the idea of spending a significantly longer amount of time together as they age which could prompt a re-evaluation of their relationship.
  • Empty nest syndrome, where once the children have the left the home, the couple realises that they do not have that much in common.
  • Changes to traditional family and relationship roles over time has encouraged individual autonomy and personal growth, even as people age.
  • The changes in traditional roles and expectations have also seen an increase in financial independence for women who traditionally may have been more reliant on their partners financially.
  • There is less social stigma associated with divorce and the need to stay unhappily married has reduced.

It’s also important to note that other factors like infidelity, health issues, unresolved long-term conflict, and financial strains, which are often factors contributing to separation for younger couples, may also play a role in the reason for separation at a later stage in life.

What are the implications of grey divorce?

Divorce and separation results in a lot of change for everyone involved, but especially for the couple who have decided to end their relationship.

Some of the implications of grey divorce that should be considered include:

  • Personal Level: The emotional landscape post-divorce can be challenging. Loneliness and the prospect of dating again or remaining separated can be daunting for many.
  • Family Dynamics: Adult children can find the divorce of their elderly parents disconcerting. They might bear the brunt of guardianship appointments, especially if one parent’s health declines.
  • Financial Implications: The division of assets and the need to reassess retirement planning can be complex. Settling financial matters like a financial settlement, shared debts, property distribution, and the allocation of jointly-held assets require careful attention.
  • Superannuation Issues: Superannuation, or the retirement benefit fund system in Australia, poses unique challenges during a grey divorce. Parties must understand how they can split superannuation and its implications on their retirement savings.
  • Legal Implications: There are various legal nuances to consider. Under the Family Law Act, couples need to be aware of several critical factors, such as the requirements for a legal separation, the nuances of the Family Law Property Settlement clause, and the implications of applying for a divorce order after all assets and liabilities have been settled.
  • Tax Implications: Grey divorce can bring about various tax-related challenges. From the sale or transfer of properties, splitting of investment portfolios, to changes in the filing status, a thorough understanding of the tax ramifications is essential.

Given the multifaceted implications of grey divorce, we highly recommended seeking legal advice from a specialist family lawyer to ensure that you understand all of your options and obligations.

The legal process and considerations

We touched on some of the legal considerations that couples need to be aware of when they decide to divorce. Whether you’re an older couple getting a ‘grey divorce’ or separating at a younger age, these are some of the matters that must be considered:

  • Property Settlement: Especially important for those with significant assets or jointly held assets accumulated over the course of a long marriage. Engaging family lawyers is often crucial in ensuring an amicable property settlement.
  • Financial Considerations: Financial settlements, which may include superannuation and spousal maintenance (a type of financial support) can be tricky. Given that many couples divorcing later in life might have intertwined finances for decades, separating them requires due diligence.
  • Divorce Proceedings: Couples must remain separated for a minimum of 12 months before filing a divorce application in the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court. This can be done online through a sole or joint application for divorce.

The actual process of divorce is somewhat straightforward, it’s the matters that need to be resolved once you decide to end the relationship that can cause difficulties, confusion and disputes. There are numerous options for resolving these matters though, which we’re going to talk about next.

Alternative Dispute Resolution in Grey Divorce

As grey divorce becomes more prevalent in Australia, there’s an increasing need for amicable methods to resolve the intricate issues that arise. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is one of the potential dispute resolution methods used by parties and can be a way to address conflicts without resorting to lengthy and often emotionally taxing court proceedings.

A particularly popular type of ADR is mediation. In this process, a neutral third party – the mediator – assists the couple in reaching mutual agreements. The mediator doesn’t make decisions but facilitates open communication, helping the couple find common ground. Given the complexity of issues like superannuation splits, asset division, and potential tax implications, mediation can offer a platform for couples to discuss and resolve concerns collaboratively.

Mediation also has the added benefit of being more cost-effective that other dispute resolution methods, like Court proceedings. Mediation also could allow the former spouses to be able to have a civil and respectful relationship and reduce animosity. It also allows the former couple to retain a level of control over the both the process and outcome of their situation.

While grey divorce in Australia brings its own unique considerations, it’s essential to remember that every couple’s journey is unique.

Working with experienced family and divorce lawyers during a grey divorce can make the process significantly easier. A couple going through a grey divorce is likely to have spent a significant period of time together and have a very intertwined relationship. This can make it difficult to work out a solution, even when the parties are amicable. It also usually means that the adjustment to life after divorce can be challenging too.

However, you don’t have to go through the divorce process alone. An experienced family law specialist can ensure that you understand all that is required of you from a legal perspective as well as help you understand all of the options you have available to you to resolve your matters.

At Unified Lawyers, our family lawyers Sydney are well-equipped and experienced to help people of all ages, including those going through a grey divorce. Our services are available Australia-wide and at all hours of the day.

Call us today on 1300 667 461 or book a free consultation using the button below.

Unified Lawyers Anita Vayanos

Anita Vayanos

Anita Vayanos is Special Counsel in Family Law at Unified Lawyers and has worked exclusively in Family Law since 2000. In addition, Anita has also completed the academic qualifications for Family Dispute Resolution (FDRP) as a mediator. Her many years of experience provides a solid foundation in understanding of the Family Law legislation, court processes, mediation processes and strategy.

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