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Grey Divorces are Growing in Numbers

Despite media reports to the contrary, the occurrence of divorce in the United States has actually been decreasing over the last three decades, and it has been a long time since the adage that “half of divorces end in marriage” has been true. According to social researchers, the peak time for divorce was in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, and the overall divorce rate has been declining ever since. But for one key demographic, the divorce rates have been climbing and climbing since the 1980s: married spouses over the age of 50.

In fact, one study conducted by Bowling Green University found that married spouses over the age of 50 were twice as likely to divorce in 2010 as they were in 1990, and the increase was even higher for married spouses over the age of 60. Al and Tipper Gore became unwitting poster children for the so-called “grey divorce” phenomenon when they decided to divorce in 2011 after four decades of marriage, and, since then, many longstanding celebrity couples have joined in on the grey divorce trend: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, and Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman just to name a few. The grey divorce trend raises important issues for those entering into the divorce process. Below we take a look at just a few of these issues.

Spousal Support May Be Indefinite

California state law provides family court judges with wide leeway in determining the amount and duration of spousal support to be paid following a marriage, but does require judges to consider a number of factors. These factors include the earning capacity of each party and the standard of living enjoyed by the spouses during the marriage, among others.

The law does not specify the duration for which spousal support must be paid, but courts will often award spousal support for roughly half the length of the marriage, i.e. if the couple was married ten years, one party might be required to pay spousal support for five years. But for marriages that have lasted decades, the court will often award indefinite spousal support, and it will be up to the parties to return to court to request termination or modification of the award.

Pensions and Retirement Benefits Can Be Considered Community Property

Some spouses in grey divorces may be already retired or will be retiring in the near future. On the one hand, this may mean that a spousal support award might be less of an issue if there is not continuing earned income. But, on the other hand, a spouse’s pension and/or retirement benefits can be considered community property, at least with regard to the portion of the retirement funds that are attributable to work performed during the marriage. In California, community property is split 50/50 between the spouses, and so even if one spouse’s work efforts were entirely responsible for building up such retirement benefits, the other spouse is entitled to half of the benefits attributable to work done during the marriage for the duration of their payment. Furthermore, because this is marital property, it will not be considered a substitution for spousal support nor will such splitting of retirement benefits end should one or both spouses remarry.

Children Who Have Reached the Age of Majority Will Not Be an Issue in the Divorce

For many younger couples, determining who should have physical and legal custody of the children, whether visitation should be allowed, and the amount of child custody payments are often the most difficult issues in a divorce. But, once the children reach the age of majority (typically 18, although this may be different in certain special needs cases), the courts will not be involved in the relationship between the parents and their adult children.

Get Answers to Your Legal Questions on California Divorces

To schedule a consultation to discuss any questions, issues, or concerns you have about the California divorce process, contact one of the family law attorneys at Kearney Baker today.

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