Over the past decade or so there has been a steady, albeit gradual, decline in the number of divorces in England and Wales. Despite this overall decrease, there has been a steady rise in the average ages of those getting divorced.
The two trends have been identified by the Office for National Statistics. In the 1970s the number of men over 60 divorcing rose. This figure was stabilised between 5,000 and 6,000 in the 80s and 90s. However between 1991 and 2011, the number of men aged 60 and over divorcing increased by 73% and the number of women over 60 divorcing also rose by 55%.The difference in the male and female figures, despite being the same age group, has been attributed to the fact that generally, husbands tend to be older than their wives.
A number of possible reasons behind the increase in the number of people over 60 getting divorced have been considered. A very simple one is the ageing population as a whole, obviously giving rise to an increase in the number of people in the over 60 age bracket. In this respect, the actual proportion of people may actually not have increased.
Another possible explanation is as the number of divorces increases, it becomes more common and this in turn leads to the loss of the stigma which was previously attached to divorces.
Another reason suggested is the number of women in the labour market. The number of women employed between the ages of 16-64 increased from 53% to 66% from 1971 to 2012. As a result of working, women have become more financially independent, building their own pensions and thus greatly reducing the fear of suddenly finding themselves financially dependent. This will be something that the majority of ‘career women’ will be used to.
Another commonly cited cause of divorce in the over 60’s is the realisation that once the children have ‘flown the nest’, there is no longer any common ground between husband and wife. The so called ’empty nest syndrome’ can have a significant impact on the dynamic between a couple. No longer having any offspring in the home will force a couple to face any issues which may have been masked by their responsibilities for the children. Bearing in mind the life expectancy of male and females has increased during this period as well, if a couple is unhappy, they are likely to have to face whether they can bear the thought of spending the next 25 years with their spouse.
It is vital that anyone, of any age, considering a divorce seek legal advice before proceeding. However, people in the over 60s bracket may require specialist advice with regard to their pension, which is often the most valuable asset in the marital pot.
By Antonia Love, Divorce Solicitor