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“Empty nest divorce” rate continues to climb

Baby boomers now dealing with "empty nests" are divorcing at a record high pace.

Unhappy couples over the age of 50 have created an emerging family law trend that goes by several different names, among them: "gray divorce," "empty nest divorce," and "baby boomer divorce." Public attention has been drawn to this issue mainly because the divorce rate of people in this demographic has steadily climbed in spite of decreases for younger couples. According to a recent study performed by sociologists at Bowling Green State University, the divorce rate for older couples has more than doubled since 1990; then, one in every 10 people over the age of 50 was divorced, but now, one in every four is divorced.

Broader implications?

Some people may think that there are no "ripples" outside of the family when a couple-old or young-decides to divorce. In some aspects, that is a correct assumption. The greatest impact will, of course, be felt by the couple and their loved ones. There is a greater societal issue at play here, though, and it has to do with a generation-long shift in the way that people view marriage and the role it plays in our lives.

Prior to the baby boom generation, marriage was simply different. In fact, the whole family dynamic was different than it is today. The "typical" family involved a single breadwinner (usually the male/father) and one person who ran the house (the wife/mom). The way the couple interacted, both amongst themselves and with their children was also different. If a couple was unhappy, there was usually a sense that they were expected to stay together anyhow. Divorce was stigmatized as a result of that widespread perception.

Today's reality

Nowadays, though, America has moved far away from the Norman Rockwell-esque vision of family life. Divorce is not only common, it is actually likely. Roughly half of all first-time marriages end in divorce, and the number is even higher-about 75 percent-for subsequent marriages.

The word "family" doesn't really mean the same thing in 2014 as it did in 1954 either. Today's families can be made up of a single mom and kids, a single dad and kids, two males, two females, or blended families made up of a couple, their children from prior relationships and the children they have together. There are also many families today that, due to economic hardship or cultural influence, have several generations living under the same roof.

In addition, there is much more of an emphasis on personal satisfaction in relationships than ever before. Even after 20, 30 or 40 years together, some couples are realizing that they want more out of life than they have now. They may have grown apart from their partner, have different goals for retirement, want to explore additional interests or they could simply be unhappy. For whatever reason, a divorce, even though it is difficult and can be complicated (involving issues like property division, debt division, spousal support/alimony and more), might be worth it if it offers the parties the best chance for a brighter future.

Are you considering ending your long-term marriage? Do you have questions about the issues that come along with a "gray divorce?" If so, seek the advice of a family law attorney in your area to learn more about what a divorce would entail.

Keywords: divorce, gray divorce, baby boomer divorce, property division, alimony