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‘Gray Divorce’ is on The Rise. Here’s What Women Need to Know

Jeffrey Dumas  |  September 5, 2023

The number of people filing for divorce after 50 is rising. Here are expert strategies on handling a gray divorce in 2023.

While high-profile celebrity break-ups like Britney Spears leaving Sam Asghari or Sofia Vergara splitting from Joe Manganiello grab our attention, what’s making waves in legal circles is “gray divorce.” One in three people who file for divorce in the United States today is older than 50, according to the Journal of Gerontology, and The American Bar Association notes that the 50+ crowd now makes up a quarter of all divorces.

“The gray divorce concerns couples who’ve often been married for decades,” says Geeta Brana, a financial adviser in Holmdel, New Jersey, who specializes in helping women meet financial challenges. Brana calls it a “financial bombshell,” for which women of all ages should prepare. “You may be in a solid relationship today, but a lot can change over 20, 30 or 40 years.”

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 50% of first marriages and 60% of re-marriages end in divorce. While divorce can be emotionally painful, they can also be an incredible financial blow. 

“It’s so important to understand your basic finances,” says Seta Keshishian, CFP, a financial adviser at JSF Financial in Los Angeles who frequently counsels women. “Have an emergency savings account to cover three to six months of expenses, be familiar with your investments, insurance and taxes. Don’t wait until after the divorce to open a relationship with a financial adviser.”

Whether you’re a newlywed, a seasoned spouse or long-term partner, here’s what to consider as you take steps to protect yourself in the event of a gray divorce: 

Your Lifespan

The average life expectancy for a woman is 87, according to the Society of Actuaries. So, how much money do you need for your lifetime? A “single-view” financial plan can help ensure you will have enough — a single-view financial plan is an objective blueprint of your personal financial health and outlook, independent of your partner or spouse… Taking a look at your single-view plan answers the question “Could you make it on your own?”

“Work with a financial professional on a plan that reflects only your retirement savings contributions and income sources,” says Brana. Such a plan will help prepare you for whatever may happen, like divorce lawyers who charge $300-$1,000 per hour.  

Debt Hurts

“Many women are surprised to learn they are jointly responsible for all debt taken on during the marriage,” says Brana. This includes mortgage, home equity line of credit, auto loans, credit card debt, 401(k) loans and student loans incurred by each spouse. “Many are surprised by the amount of debt their spouse has accumulated without their knowledge,” says Brana, who says women should always include debt-repayment as part of gray-divorce negotiations. Make sure you and your financial planner  take steps to understand the complete picture of all the debt you and your partner may have, so you’ll know exactly what your expenses for debt repayment will be post-divorce. Your financial adviser would help you understand your “debt load” and which steps to take to reduce, and/or ultimately eliminate it.

Seeking Shelter

Many couples may find they need to sell their marital home following a divorce, which means parties will need to find a new place to live. Although this may sound daunting at first, getting a new residence can represent an emotional fresh start, and a change of scenery can be a welcome thing. A financial professional can help you create a budget and cash-flow analysis that ensures your new home is not only cozy, it’s also affordable. 

Going Back To Work 

Following a divorce, many women are awarded no alimony, and oftentimes when they are, it may not cover living expenses. (This is at least partly because under the new tax code, alimony deductibility has changed, so you’ll need to plan with this in mind.)  Because of this, most spouses find it necessary to return to work post-divorce, but if they’ve been out of the workforce for decades, they may find that their skills may have gotten dull. “It’s important to keep your skills sharp,” says Chiquita Rice, AAMS, of Monarch Investment Advisors in West Roxbury, MA. “Rely on your skill set. For example, a single former teacher can work as a tutor or substitute.”

Where’s the Money?

Don’t assume you’re aware of all the assets that your spouse may own. When one spouse takes greater control of the finances, it’s easy for the other to become complacent and not possess a full understanding of every account and where it may be located, or how much money each account may contain. “It’s not unusual in a gray divorce for one spouse to have so-called ‘off-the-books’ assets,” says Rice, “such as artwork or a foreign bank account.” A forensic accountant can check for hidden assets.

In Sickness and in Health

Healthcare is always important, but as you age, it becomes paramount. “The price tag can be a surprise if you’re accustomed to being part of your spouse’s employer-sponsored plan,” says Brana. This is why the of health insurance premiums should be key in a gray-divorce budget, Brana stresses. 

Hands-Off Social Security

It’s important for women to understand that a former spouse has no influence over your benefits, but you may be eligible to claim a higher retirement benefit based on your former spouse’s work record. This applies to each former spouse, whether you are the ex-wife or ex-husband. If you were married for 10 years or more, you can claim spousal benefits on your divorced spouse at age 62. “Depending on your ex’s earnings, your current earnings and new partner’s earnings it may not be advantageous to remarry,” says Brana.


A gray divorce can prevent women from living the life they planned. Want to come out strong? “Don’t be caught unaware,” says Keshishian.   


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