If you find yourself asking whether it’s worth it to get divorced later in life (to have a “gray divorce”), here’s how to navigate your reasonable reservations and the challenges you anticipate in the process.

Should I get divorced later in life?

Such a big question carries big worries with it. 

  • “Will divorce doom me to a life of loneliness?”
  • “Will people assume the worst and think I had an affair?”
  • “Will our assets really be split fairly?”
  • “How can I financially bounce back from the costs?”

You can’t just snap yourself out of these feelings and fears, so try engaging with and processing the emotions in the sections below. Only you can say if divorce is worth it for you, but the option is certainly worth considering.

Before proceeding, reflect on the following:

  • Can you put a price, whether in terms of time or money or fear, on your long-term wellbeing? On your freedom?
  • You’ve worked so hard all these years. What has your goal been?
  • How would staying in this marriage compare to the life you imagined for yourself?

“Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.” – Aubrey de Grey

“Life can feel like a sunk cost fallacy: we get in a rut, and think we’ve paid our dues in this rut and so in this rut we must remain. But every day is a new start. A day to build wings and escape.” – Chuck Wendig

Will people think I’m having a belated mid-life crisis?

In a Psychology Today article by Kathy McCoy, PhD, McCoy recounts a friend’s experience–a man who decided to divorce after being married 40 years. Her friend shares that he feels hurt by assumptions that his later-life divorce may have been an impulsive or affair-based decision:

“‘I’m sure there are some older divorced guys who do fit the midlife crazy stereotype,’ he said quietly. ‘But my take on it is this: You don’t leave a marriage of four or five decades on a whim or for anyone else. My wife and I were unhappy for many years, but we loved our children. We also loved each other for a very long time.’” 

What made him pull the trigger after so long? “We tried so hard. I left only when I realized that my life was at stake — that the stress of our unhappiness together was killing me slowly but surely.”

Quoted in an article on gray divorce, Dr. Susan L. Brown, PhD mentions two questions to help validate your decision to divorce later in life:

  • “Does this marriage make me happier as a person?”
  • “Is my marriage contributing to my self-fulfillment?”

If you answer “no” to either of these questions, you can feel confident in your choice to make a change.

We’ve been together so long. I don’t think I could put myself out there again.

It’s easy to think that divorce past 60 could lead to a later life filled with loneliness. However, on the contrary, divorce in later life usually opens the doors to more fulfilling connection–especially now that you’ve been around the block and have a better idea of what you’re looking for.

If your own confidence is the stumbling block, there are proactive ways to address that. Try using the worksheet below to bolster your self worth and remember what you bring to the table.

Or, find tips to address later-life dating anxieties here.

Comment in Reddit thread

Five women’s stories of divorce in later life (CBC’s Sunday Magazine)

What if the process gets drawn out so long that I don’t get to live the rest of my life?

Consider what kind of life an unhealthy marriage condemns you to. At least in the process of divorce, you may have a chance to enjoy separation and the beginnings of freedom.

Dr. Sharon L. Brown shares in the aforementioned article that “we know that staying in a low-quality marriage can be very detrimental for individual health and well-being. When you look a little deeper, marriage is protective for individual health and longevity when couples are in satisfying and rewarding marriages, but in marriages that are low-quality and full of conflict, the outcomes are significantly worse on average.”

A divorce may naturally take up a large portion of your energy–both via paperwork and grief. But that might not matter so much if you’re saving significant energy by exiting a toxic living environment.

So… What would it look like if the divorce process got “drawn out”? Would you really have no room for new beginnings?

Maybe you are fielding legal proceedings and dealing with the corresponding mood swings. While that might make you feel “unfit” to find a new partner, think of it this way: meeting someone during a time of stress lets you know that they find you attractive even during the “bad” times when you’re under pressure.

I’m worried I won’t recover financially.

Are you afraid that the divorce process will “take you for all that you’re worth”? Address how inevitable that actually is (or isn’t).

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center it makes sense to be concerned: “Divorce tends to take a heavy financial toll. If you get a divorce when you’re younger, you have the time and the ability to make the money needed to erase any debt from the divorce. But if you are older or retired, you may not have as much time to make that money back. This can leave you in financial difficulty.” 

However, the same resource goes on to recommend one way to address this worry head-on: “You can try to keep the legal fees down by having a joint consultation with a divorce attorney. Then handle most of the paperwork and the division of assets yourself. But a lawyer should review any agreement and make sure the settlement is in your best interest.”

What if you’re worried that assets won’t be divided equitably? Take heart knowing that most states either divide assets half-and-half (“community property”), or operate on an “equitable division” principle that doesn’t guarantee a 50/50 split but still attempts fair division.

Imagine realistic worst-case scenarios

Is it possible that you will “draw the short end of the stick” in this divorce? Maybe. But what would that look like? How would the worst case scenario actually impact your quality of life? How does that compare to years more in a broken marriage?

Would you still have enough to live on, even if assets weren’t divided equitably in your eyes? Is the discrepancy enough to justify wearing down your health in an unhealthy marriage?

Divorce isn’t always the right option. But it is worth considering.

Some couples choose to separate rather than divorce, in order to maintain health insurance benefits or avoid aforementioned legal fees. This or other practical and financial reasons may justify remaining in an unhealthy marriage on paper. However, individuals in unfulfilling or downright toxic situations should seriously consider divorce–or at the very least, separation–as way to improve mental health and wellbeing in later life.