Silver separations are on the up

Posted by Naomi Hayward

Senior Associate & Collaborative Lawyer

It has been called many things, 'the silver splitters', 'the grey divorce revolution', 'the silver divorce'.  These are just some of the many terms coined to describe those aged 60 and over who are getting divorced in the England and Wales.

There have been several reports in the press recently inspired by the statistics released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reporting that whilst the overall number of divorces has fallen since 1993, the number of divorces of those aged 60 and over has continued to rise.

The ONS reported that in 1950 there were a total of 31,000 divorces across England and Wales.  This peaked at 165,000 in 1993 after which the divorce rate has steadily declined, reported as being 118,000 in 2011.

However, in contrast to these figures the number of those aged 60 and over taking the decision to divorce has steadily increased.  In 2011 the number of men aged 60 and over who divorced reached almost 9,500 which was a staggering increase of 73% from the number of men in the same age range who divorced in 1993.

The same trend can be seen in the rates for women aged 60 and over.  In 1991 there were 3,200 divorces of women over 60 but this had increased to 5,800 divorces in 2011.

So what is causing the continuing rise in divorces for the silver population when the overall divorce rate is in decline?

There are a number of factors thought to be contributing towards these statistics and the most popular are:

  1. As a population we are continuing to live longer and are often staying healthier for longer. Many people aged 60 and over are thinking they could have another 20-30 years of healthy and happy life before them and are questioning whether they want to continue living with their spouse for such a long period of time.
  2. The greater involvement in the labour market by women. The number of women in employment continues to rise which means generally women have become more financially independent from their husbands and they are not as reliant upon their husbands for such things as pensions in their later years. 
  3. The loss of stigma associated with being divorced.

If you are one of the 'silver splitters' thinking about separating from your spouse I would urge you to take legal advice as soon as possible and before any decisions are made.  One of the main areas for consideration is likely to be your pensions and the timing and method of your separation may be key to you preserving your pensions in the best possible way or ensuring that important pension rights are not lost as a result of your separation. Different consideration will need to be given to pensions that are already in payment.

Even where you do not have private pensions, consideration should be given to any Additional State Pension (the collective term for the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme (SERPS) and the State Second Pension (S2P)) as the lump sum cash equivalent value for someone who is approaching retirement and has the maximum entitlement could be significant and such entitlements can also be subject to pension sharing orders.

Pensions can often be the most valuable assets for people 60 and over and it is therefore important that legal advice is taken at the earliest opportunity if you are considering a separation from your spouse.

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