The Boomer is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their golden years. It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Whatever happened to til death do us part?
My wife and I will celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary this month and we are still best friends. But that isnt the norm nowadays.
A few weeks ago we learned friends of ours who had been married for 32 years were heading to divorce court; he was having an affair with his secretary and his wife had no idea.
The divorce rate among boomers has jumped recently and that number is only expected to climb. Statistics from the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University show that despite the overall divorce rate in the U.S. dropping over the last 20 years, the divorce rate among people age 50 and over has doubled.
When you think we should be enjoying the best years of our lives, so many baby boomer marriages are falling apart. Look at the recent news of the break up between Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And who can forget the sudden split between Al and Tipper Gore after 40 years of marriage? What's going on here? Is it because the kids are grown and have left the nest? Have we grown tired of each other or is it a mid-life crisis?
To get some answers, I reached out to Karen Stewart, a divorce and relationship expert and founder and CEO of Fairway Divorce Solutions.
Boomer: Whats behind the trend of divorce rates dropping in every other age group except for boomers where it is rising?
Stewart: Baby boomers tend to be the group that has the economic livelihood and the economic feasibility to get divorced. Whats really interesting is that divorce rates will increase in both good and bad economic times. When there is a lot of money in marriage, divorce is a reasonably easy financial solution because when it comes to dividing the assets, there are enough for both parties. Marriages with not a lot of money tend to be more financially strained which can lead to stress and increase the risk of divorce. The baby boomer generation is hit most by those extremes.
Kids getting older and leaving the nest is another main driver of the increasing divorce.
Boomer: Do you think these trends are going to continue? Is the 30-year itch the new seven-year itch?
Stewart: I think the trends will continue in the age group of 40 65 year olds. As baby boomers get older I expect the rate to go down. We are looking at the attitudes of different generations; Generation Y seems to have an interesting sense of renewed excitement about the concept of marriage and the traditional family. Marriage is still in. With the recent wedding of Prince William and Princess Katherine we see the industry getting all stirred up again.
Boomer: Why are boomers looking for alternative options to the divorce process?
Stewart: Twenty years ago our laws for matrimonial division of property were very outdated and did not protect people getting divorced very well. States are getting slightly better with their laws, and in some states, like California the law splits property 50/50. The laws have sort of caught up a bit with the number of divorces.
Now, couples going through the process want to be smart and reasonable about it. Divorce will always be a tough, emotional journey, but now people are being more practical and pragmatic about how to bring resolution. Boomers are looking for alternatives to the standard 'hire two lawyers to fight it out'; people recognize the need to bring the marriage to an end in a less destructive way.
Boomer: What are some of the alternative measures to divorce besides going to court?
Stewart: Going to trial is probably your one extreme of the spectrum and happens when couples can't get along and their lawyers reach cant agreement and then a judge makes the final decision.Working down the spectrum might be having two lawyers fight it out and come to an agreement without needing a trial or judge.
There are things like arbitration which is where a couple will hire a lawyer or maybe an ex judge to make final decisions. You also have collaborative law, which has been around for awhile, that involves each party hiring a lawyer to represent them, but the whole premise of the dispute resolution is that the attorneys cannot go to trial and represent them. If they breakdown in negotiations than the clients have to hire other lawyers.
You can have a mediation-type scenario where lawyers, financial experts or ex judges mediate the dispute. My company provides mediation for couples wanting a divorce and we have noticed an increase in clients representing themselves, they don't trust lawyers. However, self-represented litigants is causing huge havoc in the system and it will be interesting to see how this trend continues.
Boomer: What are some of the leading causes of boomers divorcing? Is infidelity a big problem?
Stewart: The one thing that I hear consistently, regardless of the specific catalyst, is lack of communication--that is by far the universal response. Infidelity is certainly a catalyst and often labeled as a reason; it plays a very large role in the breakdown or end of a marriage.
A really healthy marriage is hard to puncture, but one that is on somewhat-shady ground is very easy to puncture. It really gets back to the individuals and how they feel about infidelity based perhaps on their beliefs, value system and background. Infidelity is used as a catalyst reason for ending a marriage 50-70% of the time.
Boomer: Once a boomer couple decides to divorce, what can they do from the start to help preserve their wealth? Most boomers have worked their entire lives to be financially secure, how can they protect their assets?
Stewart: There are two endings with a divorce: emotional and business. And there are two main things that we have to make decisions about: our kids and our money.
In the large majority of cases, emotions play havoc with the decision-making process. Philosophically, we need to understand that divorce is a financial ending and we need to be pragmatic about it. The most important thing to do when it comes to money is to look at the assets and the values associated with them.
Once we can agree on what the assets are worth then we can look at how to divide them. Everything in divorce has a price tag and people must detach themselves emotionally from the assets. Women tend to be completely paranoid about being left to starve and become bag ladies. Men are typically worried about being taken to the cleaners. Our job is to come up with a solution that is going to make both individuals leave feeling comfortable and secure.
Boomer: How can boomers deal and protect their older children when going through a divorce compared to teenagers or young children?
Stewart: When kids are younger mom and dad sit down with them and explain that mommy and daddy love you, but we are not going to live together and everything is going to be all right.
While older kids are more cynical and a little more in the know, they are just as much affected as younger kids--but in a different way. Parents need to be open and honest and on the same page on how to deliver the message to the older kids. The same rules apply: Never back stab or put down your ex. Always remember that your child is one half your ex and by putting down your ex you are basically telling kids half of them is not OK. Sometimes older kids hear too much or their parents share too much because they think they can handle it, they cant. Be honest about your own feelings about what's happening to you without projecting or burdening your kids with any kind of decisions.
Boomer: Hollywood is setting a certain tone with divorce when it comes to high-profile cases. Do Hollywood couples decision to split up make divorce more appealing?
Stewart: What is happening in Hollywood is almost sexfying divorce. Maria Shriver is the perfect example: the preppy girl who went off to school, married someone who is a little bit of a bad boy, but very successful. Arnold wasnt all brawn, he also had brains. This is the fairy tale of your average baby boomer and now Maria has just found that her marriage has been basically a bit of a facade. I think we will see a bit of a movement to empower baby boomer women. I am worried that we might be creating a victim sex appeal divorce baby boomer trend. I believe if we can get divorcing right we will actually see an increase in marriages.
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