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Melissa A. Featherston

Older divorcing couples need to protect their retirement

People in their 50s and older are making up an increasingly larger percentage of divorcing couples. In 1990, this group accounted for only 8 percent of divorces. In 2014, that number had risen to 25 percent. Not surprisingly, as people are living longer, healthier lives, if they're in an unhappy marriage in their 50s or 60s, they're less willing to hang in there until death when they could have decades ahead of them.

Older divorcing couples generally have different issues to resolve than younger couples do. Retirement security is often the primary one. Divorce usually has a negative financial impact on people, if for no other reason than it costs more to live alone than as part of a couple. Younger people have many work years ahead of them to recover financially, while older people don't.

Even though older women are the ones more likely to initiate a divorce, they generally fare worse than men in divorce -- particularly when it's later in life. They're more likely to have been out of the workforce at some point in their lives, so their earning potential often isn't equal to their husbands. This makes it necessary to seek spousal support, at least on a temporary basis. A survey of family law attorneys found that 83 percent of divorcing couples who are 50 and older fight over alimony.

Another challenge for older divorcing women is that many don't handle the household finances or know how much the couple is worth, let alone about any accounts held solely by their spouse. That can be dangerous when it comes to dividing up assets -- particularly the all-important retirement savings. One survey found that over 20 percent of couples didn't know how much was in their partner (of either gender) had in retirement accounts.

Older divorcing couples also are likely to have more assets and debts to divide up than their younger counterparts. They usually own a home, and perhaps a vacation property. One or both of them may own a business. They may be paying all or part of their children's college tuition and have other significant loans and debts.

If you're divorcing, it's essential to protect your share of the assets that you've worked hard to accumulate, whether on your own or with your spouse, and to preserve your financial future. An experienced Missouri family law attorney can work to help you do that.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Older Americans Are Jeopardizing Their Retirement With Divorce It’s not just Brangelina," Carol Hymowitz, Sep. 29, 2016

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