Over 50 and Divorcing? Consider Collaborative Divorce

Divorce attorneys and family therapists are seeing an increasing number of couples over 50 deciding to divorce. If the parties have been in a long-term marriage, the emotional and financial impact can be devastating, and the parties’ ages make it more difficult to recover, especially if there has been a disparity in income or education. While much of the marketing of collaborative divorce is geared toward younger couples with children, the process has distinct advantages for many couples over 50 regardless of whether they have children or significant assets.

The first advantage is control, as the spouses are directly involved in negotiations and decision-making. A common misunderstanding is that it is better for a judge to make decisions if spouses cannot agree. The reality is that litigation should be a last resort because it limits the decision-making of both parties. In a hearing, your marital history, behavior and personal financial information are presented to a stranger via testimony and exhibits compressed into a few hours. In a collaborative divorce, spouses control the timeline and number of conferences needed to exchange information and negotiate a settlement. The process even incorporates certain business elements, with each settlement meeting including an agenda and minutes to minimize surprise and encourage preparation.

By age 50 or older, most spouses have retirement assets and real property to divide. By using an agreed financial advisor, spouses get a realistic idea of what their changed futures look like as a result of the property division. Couples can be creative with asset distribution and find that they have more flexibility with terms compared to most litigated court orders.

Divorce is stressful, even if spouses are amicable. Anger, bitterness, grief and guilt are common emotions. In most litigation, these emotions result in increased fees. Collaborative divorce encourages rational decision-making. Working with divorce coaches or therapists can help manage the stress and emotions. This allows parties to make clear-headed, future-oriented decisions instead of critical financial or personal decisions in the heat of the moment. As collaborative divorce attorney Holly Wanzer of JHDJ Law says, “divorce isn’t about getting to an agreement you can live with today, but about reaching one that you can live with in 6 months when the raw emotions subside.”

Privacy is another advantage. Divorces are public record, and the court file may include personal details as well as allegations concerning parenting skills or drug or alcohol use, especially in custody matters. Financial information may be included such as property owned, vehicles, mortgage balance, debts, and retirement funds. In the collaborative process, the parties agree to share information only with each other, their respective counsel and necessary experts. Less information is also disclosed in the actual settlement documents, therefore leading to a more private final agreement.

Even adult children can be negatively impacted by divorcing parents, so couples who are able to cooperate with each other, and look for opportunities for resolution instead of revenge can minimize the effects on their children and grandchildren. A collaborative divorce is structured to encourage respectful, co-parenting relationships.

As the spouses separate and transition, they need to preserve as much of their income and assets as possible since there will be ultimately be two households and two sets of expenses. Traditional litigation tends to focus on getting the “best” result at whatever the cost. But the collaborative process is designed to minimize costs. Collaborative divorce benefits spouses because of its efficiency and cost-effectiveness in comparison to litigation.