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The Rise Of The 'Silver Splitter'

Why are more older wealthy people getting divorced - and is there a way around the problem?

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Why are more older wealthy people getting divorced - and is there a way around the problem?

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The Rise Of The 'Silver Splitter'

Why are more older wealthy people getting divorced - and is there a way around the problem?

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Even by the standards of today`s throwaway culture, there are some things in life which surely remain immune to disposability.

The Rolex watch which promises to soldier its way until the end of time. Or that classic designer coat, gifted like the family silver, from mother to daughter as a reminder of life before the march of the Primark generation.

And above those post retirement couples who after decades of marriage would never - never- consider splitting up. Surely after raising children, slaving to pay the mortgage and working hard for decades, this is a time to relax and enjoy each other`s company.

Yet it seems that late-life divorce is a growing trend which confounds every stereotype about the quiet dotage of our autumn years. Perhaps it`s down to the likes of Mick Jagger whose geriatric gyrating leaves men half his age panting for oxygen.

Or the evergreen Jane Fonda who at 79 proclaimed last month she`d like to film more sex scenes. Either way, age really is no more than a clichéd number as an increasing number of couples part company after as much as 40 years of marriage and instead search for new beginnings.

For them it is a case of till retirement do we part. From 2005 to 2015, the number of men of pension age getting divorced increased from 8,059 to 8,697, whilst among women of the same age group the increase was from 4,654 to 5,554.

In my own practice I repeatedly meet clients in their late 60`s, 70`s and even 80`s who are no longer content to make do and mend. They want out. The question is why?

We're living longer

Perhaps it`s self-fulfilling prophesy, but the longer we live, the longer we think we`ll live. Many clients suggest that the prospect of another two decades with their current partner is utterly unappealing.

Especially since The Office for National Statistics puts UK life expectancy at 79.4 years for men and 83.1 years for women. Meanwhile advances in medical treatment as well as an adoption of healthier lifestyles means that many people realise being over 65 is far from being old.

Certainly surviving health scares which would have finished people off 30 years ago is also motoring this social revolution. It can trigger an appetite for crazy challenges and far flung travel.

If a reluctant partner raises an objection it may be all that`s needed to unravel a long standing marriage.

Rolling Stones

Older libertines suddenly have a lot of role models

Sex

Hand in hand with sustained energy is an appetite for a healthy sex life. No longer do pensioners feel they have to mothball that side of their life. Throw in the wide availability of Viagra which has provided a new lease of sexual life for many older men, and it`s little wonder that even in their seventies and beyond the grass seems greener.

Women do look and feel so much better than they once did. With their children grown up they are keen to junk the fabled home and hearth for something more exciting . In short that 40 year itch is ready to be scratched.. and not by the man whose socks have been hanging over the bath for the last few decades.

Season this flurry of activity with the boom in online dating sites for older people and it`s not surprising the atmosphere is ripe for change.

Financial independence

Another aspect driving the increase in older divorces is that women are becoming increasingly independent. No longer do we have traditional stay-at --home mums who rely on their husband`s benevolence for housekeeping.

Instead so many women now work (either by default or design). Liberated by knowing their rights and enjoying their own income they also don`t feel stigmatised by the prospect of being 70 and single.

They remind themselves that what felt good at 25 – playing house and fulfilling a dutiful role – no longer tastes so sweet, at this life stage. Which could explain why, according to the Oxford-based European Sociological Review.

Working women are more than three times more likely to be divorced than their stay-at-home counterparts.

Confidence is further boosted by recent rulings by the House of Lords which mean women who stayed at home are now likely to receive a generous share of their husband’s assets.

Accessing pensions

In April 2015 Chancellor George Osborne handed the over-55s the freedom to cash in their pension pots and take control of their lifetime savings. Now divorce lawyers are reporting a new rush to divorce among couples around retirement age.

Unhappy older couples are seizing on their new financial freedom to make a clean break, no longer put off by money worries Pension freedom also allows for dividing the family assets without selling the family home.

Or pension assets can now be converted into cash from age 55 so it could be easier for both parties to fund new homes – though beware that with the cash windfall could come greater income tax charges .

You can take 25 per cent of any pension withdrawal free of tax but the remainder is added to your income for that year and taxed accordingly.

George Osborne

George Osborne gave pensioners more freedom to spend

What of the pitfalls?

Despite such attractive reasons to divorce, it`s important to make clients understand that divorce is not always the best option later on in life - sometimes there are more effective approaches available.

Courts have moved away from their former “meal ticket for life” orders and some partners may be ordered to support their former spouse until they reach financial independence.

For couples who have in fact been separated for some time already but want to regularise their separation as part of dealing with their financial affairs, it may be best to consider a deed of separation.

Another major issue is incapacity. Legal Power of Attorneys do not permit attorneys to divorce their ‘protected party’ and cannot provide consent to divorce based on two years’ separation.

There are also issues with instructing counsel on the financial aspects or attending court, as this requires a much higher level of capacity than that which is required to simply divorce someone.

That could mean that parties are left divorced without any adequate financial settlement protecting them afterwards. Getting a mortgage to buy a new home when you are older can be a problem however as most lenders are reluctant to offer mortgages that run beyond age 65 or 70.

If you have to take out a mortgage over a shorter term, say five or 10 years, your monthly repayments will be much higher.

Silver splitters face a real problem where one partner hasn’t worked for years and may struggle to find a job after divorce. The courts may order maintenance payments to a spouse where necessary and affordable.

The courts may also allow the partner to continue living in the house until they die or remarry, known as a Martin Order. So although the prospect of new found post retirement freedom may seem incredibly tempting, it`s worth considering whether two lives apart really are better than one lived together.

Nicola McInnes, head of family law at Gorvins Solicitors.

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The Rise Of The 'Silver Splitter'

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