Grey Divorce – the financial impact on women
- August 29, 2019
- Jennifer Hetherington
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My grandparents were married for 66 years. That’s them in the photo. They used to sit on the couch together holding hands.
The photo below was taken on their wedding day.
They had a blissful, happy marriage with 4 children, 8 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren.
They met during WWII and fell in love, but Nana’s father would not allow her to marry until after her 21st birthday.
Whilst my grandparents and parents have had a long and happy marriage – despite tests and tribulations along the way – not all marriages fare the same.
Over the more than 20 years I have been a specialist family lawyer, I have noticed an increasing trend of women consulting me, separating later in life.
The reasons are many and varied. Some describe intentionally ‘hanging in there’ until the children have left home or finished school. Others talk about thinking everything was ok, but once the kids left home, they realised they have grown apart. One client described to me the loneliness she felt when it was just the two of them.
Of course, infidelity can be a factor – some clients have turned a blind eye but are not prepared to do so any longer.
Others felt they had to wait until the children were over 18 as their abusive husband would have taken the children from them.
Whatever the reason, ‘grey divorce’ is becoming more common, and if not handled well, it can result in devastating financial outcomes for women.
The impact of grey divorce on women
Recently I was quoted in an article by Starts at 60 about Grey Divorce. When the article was shared on their Facebook page, the comments were worrying:
“After thirty years I came home one day and my husband had left a sticky note to tell me he’d found someone else. He stopped working, spent his super before my solicitor stopped him and left me with a large mortgage and debt my job couldn’t pay. I knew about the mortgage but he had other debt in both our names I didn’t know about. I had worked when I was young, no super, lived on farms that he worked on for many years and only worked ten years where I got super. He got away with it paying nothing to me and I had to sell my home quickly to pay off the mortgage. He got away Scott free as I struggled to pay the debt and survive. I now pay almost all my pension in rent. I was 59.” (sic)
“After 50 years! Quite a shock and the worry was affording a roof over my head! Made me so appreciative of family and friend’s suport and suddenly realized what I read about older women on a pension, was ME !” (sic)
How is grey divorce different?
Separation at any age can be difficult. However, grey divorce has unique challenges and requires expert family law and financial advice, to ensure that both spouses can survive in their golden years.
With grey divorces you change from joint goals for your financial future and retirement, to trying to divide what you have built over a lifetime together, to both start over. Your retirement plan goes out the window and you need to plan from scratch.
Research has shown that grey divorce can take a particularly serious financial toll on women.
At an age where you have worked together, perhaps given up a career to raise a family, with the expectation of enjoying a comfortable retirement, you can have the rug pulled from underneath you.
Given that when you reach retirement age, you can generally expect to live another 25 odd years, this is a frightening prospect.
The key is to ensure that the family law property settlement you receive is not only within the range of your legal entitlement, but appropriately structured to suit your retirement needs.
There is no point in taking an expensive home that generates you no income, and not having money to live on.
When we assist a woman with a grey divorce, we work with financial planners – in particular those with expertise in retirement planning – to ensure that financial outcomes are maximised. It is not as simple as selling everything and dividing it – that can result in less money for everyone. A carefully crafted agreement and maximise outcomes for both spouses and ensure financial security moving forward.
What if I know nothing about our finances?
This is more common than you would expect – even in younger age groups!
I still encounter many women (be they grey, brunette or in between) who have no idea of the family finances. When people are married for a long time, they each take on their own roles in the relationship and it is not uncommon for one spouse to take care of the money. For my grandparents, Nana was the one who did that – Grandad didn’t have a clue (but she fortunately was very organised so it didn’t create dramas when she passed away).
It doesn’t mean to say that the husband has hidden anything (although sometimes this is the case). The main thing is we need to get information to know what there is.
When do I need to see a family lawyer?
Jennifer Hetherington is a multi-award-winning Accredited Family Law Specialist and founder of Hetherington Family Law, now Divorce Hub Legal. She has been working with family law clients for over 20 years and has a particular interest in women recovering financially from divorce.