Divorce After 50 Years of Marriage Doesn’t Have To Be Scary
It’s becoming increasingly common for senior citizens to divorce, and divorce after 50 is very different than when the couple is younger and still actively parenting their kids. Since people are living longer than ever before, and without kids to complicate the divorce, many older couples find it easier to take the plunge and split up than to spend the last good years they have in an unhappy marriage. Reporter Doree Lewak has some interesting insight into what is being coined “gray divorce.”
Three years ago, when Carol Moffa divorced her husband after, she says, putting up with a lot of “crap” over the years, she was downright scared. Moffa, now 76, had been married 52 years, and the thought of having to start her life over was frightening.
“I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ ” recalls Moffa, who lived in Fredericksburg, Va., for decades working as an accountant, and now shares a studio on the Upper East Side with one of her two adult daughters. “I thought I was in it for the long haul.”
Divorce isn’t just for middle age anymore. Studies show that “gray divorce” — marital splits among senior and nearly senior citizens — is increasingly common. According to a Pew Research Center report from March of this year, the divorce rate for married people in the US age 50 and older is now about double what it was in the 1990s. And, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics and US Census Bureau, the divorce rate for those 65 and older tripled from 1990 to 2015. Experts say the trend makes sense. When seniors divorce, it tends to be less acrimonious, and, with people living longer, they don’t want to spend their retirement years in an unhappy union.
“Sometimes they lived solely for the kid or other spouse and think, ‘It’s my turn now.’ Sixty or 70 isn’t old nowadays.”“It’s certainly easier when there are no kids or custody issues involved. It’s like, ‘We raised our kids, made our money, we want to be happy now,’” says Alyssa Eisner, a matrimonial lawyer who has been practicing for 17 years and is based in Forest Hills.
“They look at each other and say, ‘I have more good years. Why should I spend it with someone I don’t love or even like?’” adds Rachel Sussman, a relationship specialist in Union Square. “Retirement doesn’t feel like the end, it feels like the beginning. If you have a partner who doesn’t want to share that with you, why would you stay?”
That’s the attitude Geraldine Biordi, 62, took when her husband of 21 years asked for a divorce. While she was blindsided by his request, she ultimately found it liberating. “In your 60s, you realize life is finite,” says Biordi, whose divorce was finalized in March. “It doesn’t go on forever: You start to question, what do I want with the rest of my life?”
It was the second divorce for Biordi, who split with her first husband in her 20s when she had a young daughter. This time was less difficult, she says. “This one is much easier, even though this marriage was so much longer,” says the Douglaston, Queens, resident who owns her own real estate company. “The only way to survive divorce is to realize you’re the only person who can make yourself happy. You cannot rely on another person in this life to account for your happiness.”
But divorce is still divorce, and splitting up after decades has its own set of complications. “All of a sudden, you’re in a 4,000-square-foot house by yourself, the AC isn’t working, and for 20 years you’ve relied on this guy to take care of it,” says Biordi. “It’s a big adjustment.”
Moffa regrets not leaving her husband earlier. “If you’re in your 50s, you have more time to get your bearings — you’d be able to handle your money how you want to. But in your 70s, it’s scary — I have to watch everything I do [financially],” she says. “I might have had a chance to meet someone. Face facts: I’m 76. There’s nothing around that appeals to me.”