Retirement and the high cost of divorce

Sad mature couple. Divorce. Isolated over white background

Image: Kurhan/

The happily ever after isn’t happening for many couples approaching retirement. The figures go something like this: In the past 20 years, the divorce rate among the 50+ age has climbed by 50% in the US; by 25% in Australia; and is the fastest growing divorce rate in the UK.

I’ve asked several marriage therapists and counsellors the ‘why is this so?’ question. They’re consistent in their answer. Couples tend to lose touch with each other with the responsibilities of family and work, and the different lives they’re living.

That means that as they head toward retirement there’s a growing sense of who is this person living in my house? Do I even like him/her? Did I ever love her/him? Why did I marry him/her?

For those in this situation, it may seem that the easy thing to do is give up. That it’s no longer worth the trouble. Couples should count the cost before making that decision.

1. Financial costs

The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has found that the financial costs can be high from divorce. They found that ‘households with a past divorce are much less likely to be able to maintain their standard of living in retirement.’

They also found that funds put aside for retirement are then used for such things as property taxes, mortgage payments and maintenance. And that big house that worked with two incomes can be ‘a financial albatross post-divorce’.

Then there’s the problem of having to continue to work longer than planned into the retirement years to take care of financial responsibilities.

And, if there’s disagreement about settlement, costs can rise dramatically.

2. Friendship costs

Family and friends are impacted by divorce. There’s often a feeling that they have to choose sides with the struggle about choosing who to support. This is particularly when there are children involved—even if they’ve already left home.

Frank Gunzburg puts it this way: ‘Divorce impacts every area of your life. Almost all the people in your life will be affected by your divorce, and mostly in bad ways.’

3. Status cost

After divorce, you become ‘single’. There’s nothing wrong with being single, but there are adjustments.

Wendy Paris, who went through her own divorce, describes it in this way, ‘One of the biggest challenges—and opportunities—in any breakup is managing the emotional transition from being part of a couple to being a complete “unit” on your own.’

She adds, ‘We gain so much from our connections, and it can feel pretty unnatural to switch our focus to ourselves.’

The advantage is, ‘This is also a chance to gain clarity about what really matters to us and to move forward into a life more in line with our desires.’

4. Relationships cost

If the US statistics are anything to go by, about 50% of first marriages; 67% of second; and 73% of third marriages end in divorce.

Mark Banschick suggests that this may come from the people concerned being vulnerable; that they didn’t allow sufficient time to recover from their first divorce; they entered the following marriage for the wrong reasons without learning from their past experience.

He suspects that the ‘prime factor’ in the break-up of second and third marriages is ‘there is less glue holding the marriage together’. He specifically mentions children and family as the glue, which includes adult children.

This is not to say that a second marriage will lead to a third. But it’s worth couples getting professional help before remarrying, which can help make the second marriage successful.

5. Emotional cost

‘All divorces suck,’ says divorce advisor and attorney, Karen Covy.

‘Just like any divorcing person, you are going to be mad, sad, upset and angry. You are going to be frustrated, aggravated, and, at times, a little bit crazy. You are going to feel like the ground beneath your feet has suddenly dropped away and you don’t know where, or even who, you are  anymore.’

There will be an emotional cost no matter what your situation before the divorce. Covy adds that it depends on how you work your way through it. Whether you choose to move forward into your new life, or not. And what you choose to tell yourself about your divorce.

In writing this post, I’m not arguing against divorce. Sometimes it should happen—and needs to happen.

And, despite what may seem like bad news about divorce issues, Paris says, ‘The vast majority of people do fine in divorce. Some people become far happier.’

What’s important is that it be carefully thought through before divorce. To count the cost.

And to ask an important question: Is it possible for us to work together to make the marriage we currently have become a thing of joy?

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of

Category: Couples

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