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Are you facing a 'Gray Divorce?'

While overall the divorce rate in America is dropping, one segment of the population is bucking this trend — senior citizens. In the past three decades, the divorce rate for those 51 and older has doubled. For senior citizens older than 65, the rates are even higher.

What is behind this surge in so-called "gray divorces"? Let's examine some of the factors.

Couples grow apart

In the past, less-than-happily-married couples may have been willing to grin and bear their marriages even when these relationships were less than fulfilling for them. Now, it appears that many couples whose children are adults feel less compelled to remain locked in what used to be called "Irish divorces," i.e., loveless unions where each spouse lives an independent life.

Divorce has lost its stigma

We live in a country where our president is on his third marriage, with children from all unions. It's apparent that many Americans no longer find divorce to be a social blunder.

Then, too, even the Catholic church under Pope Francis has taken a softer stance against its divorced members, opening the sacramental door (in some instances) to those who have remarried without a clerical annulment.

Americans are living longer

With advanced health technologies and more cures for diseases available, people in the United States are living longer lives. They're remaining active well into their 80s, and some past that. It's no wonder that many senior citizens don't relish the idea of staying married to someone whom they no longer love for another few decades.

Don't act in haste

If you are considering filing for a later-in-life divorce, put the brakes on for a minute and think about the consequences. Women in particular do not typically fare as well financially post-divorce.

Long-term marriages may generate some spousal support, at least for a short period, but if you are contemplating pulling the plug on your marriage, first seek advice to learn about your legal rights to support, retirement benefits and asset division.

Keeping the home can be a big mistake

If you decide to forge ahead with a divorce, think long and hard about fighting to keep the family home. Yes, it represents many of the positive memories from your lives together, e.g., rearing the kids, family gatherings, but it can wind up becoming a real albatross around your neck.

For one, upkeep and maintenance can become too burdensome and expensive as you age. Then, there are property taxes to consider. You have to ask yourself if this is really something you can afford to continue owning, as you may do much better selling the home and splitting the profits. Investing in a smaller dwelling or even moving into a retirement community might be a better option.

Any decision you make at this juncture should be prudent and measured, tempered by solid advice from legal and financial advisers.

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