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Divorce in the over-60s

Sarah Crilly, Associate in the Family Law, looks at why divorce rates are rising for couples in later life.

According to recent statistics, divorce in the over-60s is still on the increase.

The Office for National Statistics reports that in 2011, nearly 9,500 men aged over 60 divorced – an increase of almost three-quarters compared with 20 years earlier.

The reasons for people divorcing later in life include that people are living longer, marrying later in life, that greater assets are available to this age group and there isn’t the stigma associated with divorce at any age.

We are living in a much more tolerant society and people aged 60 to 70 are no longer considered old.  Married people’s children tend to be adults by this age and there is no longer that bond holding people together.

In some cases, people want new experiences for the last chapter in their lives and are no longer prepared to just put up with unhappy marriages.

People in this age group are likely to have built up valuable property and pension assets which are readily accessible and are likely to have been married for 20 or 30 years-plus and thus fall into the long marriage category which the courts will approach on the basis that there should be equal sharing.

Invariably divorces involving this age group are likely to see one party, normally the husband, with the pension provision and the other with simply a joint interest in the matrimonial home.

The legislation which provides guidance to the courts when considering the division of assets between a divorcing couple does point the court to considering the length of the marriage and ages of the parties as some of the factors that should be taken into account.

The case law encourages equal sharing of assets and pensions on divorce after long marriages.  Since it is likely that divorce in the over-60s will involve long marriages, an equal split of assets is the overall likely solution in most cases.

Properties that have formed the matrimonial home in these types of cases can be ordered to be sold with the proceeds being divided equally.  The court can make Pension Sharing Orders in favour of the spouse who has less or no pension, thus equalising the parties’ income in retirement.

As divorce lawyers, we often see this category of marriages with not just property and pensions that have been built up during the marriage as a result of both parties’ joint endeavours but sometimes inherited assets that have fallen in to the middle of the marriage from either of the respective spouses parents.

Provided these have fallen in during the marriage as opposed to post-separation and become intermingled with matrimonial assets then the equal sharing principle can still apply, unlike in medium or short marriages where such assets would be treated very differently.

The pensions freedoms that now exist will force divorce lawyers to consider whether or not prevention of drawdowns by one party should be sought by way of injunction from the court to preserve the status quo while any divorce is being dealt with for this age group.

There is much to consider and specialist financial and legal advice must be always be considered.

* For more information on the issues raised by this article please contact one of our specialist divorce lawyers

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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