Divorcing Baby Boomers: How to Get a Financial Grip

The divorce rate among baby boomers is on a steady rise, and it’s wreaking havoc on their finances—especially those already in or nearing retirement.

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“If you look back 20 years ago, one in 10 people who were divorced were 50 or older,” says Ann Dowd, vice president of retirement and investment strategies at Fidelity Investments. “Now, it’s one in four--which is a stunning increase. Women in particular are the hardest hit by this.”

A divorce at any age can be devastating, but when people are nearing retirement or haven’t been in the work force for decades, the split often leads to financial insecurity. Dividing assets in a separation can be tricky, especially if one person in the couple dominated the financial decisions.

“You’ve got to take stock of your financial life and make a plan for that transition,” says Dowd. “It may be a big step for a lot of women, particularly those who relied on the husband as the chief financial decision maker.”

The first step people need to take is getting a full picture of their finances, advises Jennifer Landon, president of Journey Financial Services, which starts with taking inventory of all the retirement, brokerage and bank accounts.

Individuals going through a divorce should also start focusing on their credit score. “Often times, if one spouse handled the finances, the credit cards and loans might have only been in his or her name, and the other person may not have the same amount of credit,” says Landon.

Larry Roby, founder and president of Senior Financial Advisors, recommends people start forwarding their personal mail to a separate post office box and pulling a credit report on themselves and the former spouse to make sure all the information is accurate. Each person should also start creating an emergency savings account to help deal with unexpected expenses after the divorce.

The home is often a big point of contention in a divorce. However, Dowd advises people to keep in mind that it can be an expensive asset.  “People are extremely attached to the house, yet it may not be the right decision to keep the house,” she says. “You need to go in with your eyes wide open. Do you have money to buy out [the other’s] share? And then even more important, can you maintain the property?”

The person who doesn’t keep the house needs to make sure his/her name is off the deed. After all, whoever’s name is on the deed will be held responsible for any late mortgage payments. To avoid any issues, Landon recommends couples  add a provision in the divorce creed that requires the spouse who is keeping the house to refinance the mortgage in his or her name only.

If a spouse didn’t work for the majority of the marriage, getting back into the labor market and creating an income source can be scary, but experts say there are ways to bridge income gaps due to the divorce.

Roby says to try to negotiate health insurance benefits paid by the ex-spouse as part of the divorce settlement, and if possible a favorable division of debt. Starting the single life will be that much harder with piles of debt.

For eligible divorcees, Social Security can also cushion the blow of any lost income. Many people don’t realize that they are still entitled to their spouse’s benefits (if they have any) after a divorce. Of course, there are rules: The person has to be 62 or older and been married for at least 10 years, and not have re-married or have higher benefits.

“It can change people’s lives knowing they can get that,” says Dowd.

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