People are living longer now than ever before. This is surely something to celebrate, however, one of the unintended consequences of our additional longevity is that divorce is on the rise for people over 50. In fact, divorce rates for people 50 and older have almost doubled since the 1990s. Divorce is typically not something you plan for in advance but there are things you can do to prepare for the wide range of emotional and financial implications both before and after it is finalized.
Emotional and Mental Health
As it relates to your emotional health, it may be difficult to remain focused and productive at home and work while dealing with the additional stress of an impending divorce. Below are some tips that may help you more successfully navigate the process so that you come out on the other side ready for your next chapter.
- Talk to someone
Make sure to share your feelings and emotions with someone. Friends and family can be a great resource to help you get through this time but often, objective advice from a professional can be the most helpful. Familiarize yourself with the differences between a counselor, psychologist, and psychiatrist because they each have different training and areas of expertise. One of the benefits of speaking with a professional is that your sessions are private and what you say will stay between you and that person. What’s more, an objective party has the potential to help you disrupt certain behaviors/thought patterns so you won’t find yourself in a similar position in the future. It may also be helpful to see a professional with your spouse and/or family as you work through the various stages of divorce.
- Don’t post on social media
In this day and age, it can be tempting to reach out en masse and tell the world how you’re feeling, especially when emotions are running high. Unfortunately, there are few positive long-term outcomes that result from broadcasting your emotional state. If you feel tempted to do so, it may be best to shut down your accounts for a period of time.
- Eat well and exercise
With so much significant change occurring at once, it can be easy to put yourself last on the priority list. Healthy food and exercise will help you feel better about yourself and give you the energy to move forward.
- Hold off on decisions
It’s difficult to make sound decisions during times of significant stress. Should you sell your house? Move to another state or country? Buy a new car? Give yourself a little time to adjust before making any big decisions and, if possible, consult a trusted and objective professional such as a financial advisor or attorney.
- Avoid unproductive conversations with your spouse
There is a reason you are getting divorced. Most likely, there is tension and it’s easy to trigger one another’s emotions when discussing the division of assets, time with kids and/or pets. If things escalate, end the conversation and try again later. If in-person or over the phone conversations get too heated, try communicating over email and keep it straightforward and fact-based. Focus on logistics and avoid adding in any commentary.
- Don’t put your grievances in writing
While escalating verbal disagreements can be harmful, written fits of rage are even more damaging. Try to avoid emailing or texting inflammatory conversations with your spouse. They may come back to haunt you during divorce proceedings and can be easily forwarded to third parties. If your spouse is the one sending these communications, save them so that you can show a record of the behavior if necessary.
- Find a passion
If you already have something in your life that brings you joy, make more time for it. Maybe you love playing tennis, painting or volunteering in your community; prioritize yourself and carve out additional time to spend on your favorite activities. If you’ve been focused on your family and/or career and haven’t found your passion, take the time to find something that brings you joy now as well as after this life transition.
- Give yourself a break and know that life will improve
Recognize that you are going through a very difficult period in your life. Try not to get down on yourself if you aren’t as productive as usual. Look at the positive things that this change will bring and know that you won’t feel this way forever.
Financial Health During a Divorce Process
If you can manage to stay mentally healthy while you’re going through a divorce, you’ll be that much better equipped to navigate a fair and optimal financial outcome. There are a number of things you and your financial advisor should work through before you finalize your divorce. And, if possible, consult with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) during the process.
- Make sure all assets are included
Depending on how contentious the relationship is at this point, there may be a risk your spouse will try to not account for or even hide certain assets. Do you own valuable art? Airline miles? Old 401(k) accounts? Take the time to thoroughly inventory all assets, especially non-traditional ones, before the divorce is final.
- Tax-deferred accounts and capital gains
Taxes are a major consideration in the division of assets. Tax-deferred accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s should be valued in after-tax dollars since you will pay income tax on any money withdrawn from those accounts. In addition, assets subject to capital gains should be discounted based on the amount of future capital gain tax owed. Failing to evaluate the potential tax liability associated with specific assets can significantly affect whether or not an equitable split is achieved.
- Hold liquid assets and credit in your name
Once it’s clear you’re headed towards divorce, be sure to establish a credit card and bank account in your name individually. There’s no need to hide these assets from your spouse but it will help you maintain flexibility to pay bills, etc. in order to start living your life independently. This will also address any potential risk of your spouse cutting off your access to marital credit card and bank accounts.
- Change your name?
If you wish to change your name after the divorce, this is the time to do it. Let your attorney know what you would like your name to be after the divorce and they can take care of it as a part of the process.
Financial Health Post Divorce
Once the divorce is finalized, there is more financial clean up to do and it’s best to handle it right away, as the potential consequences will be greater in the future.
- Shut down joint accounts and credit lines
One of the first things you will want to do is remove yourself from all joint credit cards, bank accounts, cable and internet services, utilities, etc. There are significant financial risks if you remain on a joint account that could potentially affect your current credit or ability to apply for credit should your spouse choose not to pay his or her bills.
- Change your beneficiaries
Unless you want your ex-spouse to be your financial beneficiary, you will want to change the beneficiary designations on any retirement accounts or insurance policies. Wills and trusts should also be updated to reflect your new life and intended beneficiaries. Recent court cases show that the stated beneficiaries will be upheld even in the event of a divorce.
- Update asset titling
If you remain in the family home after your divorce, make sure that your ex-spouse is removed from the title on your home as well as any house related bills. Alternatively, if your spouse will be living in the house, make sure you are removed from these titles.
- Find a short-term living solution
Unless you are remaining in the family home, you should find a temporary housing situation if financially feasible. It’s best to not make any major decisions, especially a house purchase until at least a year after your divorce is complete. Your life will likely look very different and remaining flexible is important.
There are no two ways about it: divorce is an incredibly difficult thing to experience. Try to be patient with the process and know that you will make it to the other side.