Silver Splitters and the empty nest

For many parents delivering their children to university, returning to the 'empty nest' will only serve to highlight existing flaws in their…

This summer will once again see parents all over the country load up their cars in anticipation of delivering their son or daughter to start their first term at university. Exciting and daunting all at the same time, for some proud parents returning home to the 'empty nest' will only serve to highlight existing flaws in their own relationship.

It is no secret that whilst divorce rates overall have fallen, divorce among people aged 60 and over has continued its largely steady rise since the 90s. For many couples, their marriage has been so intrinsically linked to their respective roles as parents that the absence of the children leaves something of a void. People may realise they no longer have any shared interests or passions with their spouse, they have nothing left to talk about, or they may feel a sense of freedom in their retirement which they wish to enjoy to the fullest.

Current baby boomer retirees may well have significant pension income, and a mortgage free property (or two). It is perhaps not surprising that they will want to take up new hobbies, or see more of the world, tick off items from their 'bucket list'. Their vision for living out their retirement may no longer align with their spouse’s.

For others, they may have been unhappy for some considerable time, and now that they have “done their duty” to their spouse and children, will want to claim back the remaining part of their life to live as they choose.

Further, women may have far greater financial independence than they would have enjoyed 30 or 40 years ago, and the idea of living alone may not be so daunting as living unhappily together.

Whatever the reason for the separation, it is likely to be vital that any couples considering divorce seek quality, independent legal advice. Many 'silver splitters' will have built up considerable assets during their marriage, which may include sizeable pension provision. Careful consideration will need to be given to establish how the assets ought to be divided to achieve a fair settlement for both parties. Women may have taken lengthy career breaks to raise the parties' children to the detriment of their own pension provision, so enquiries ought to be made as to whether they should have a claim on their spouse’s provision. Both parties will likely need to secure alternative housing, and as their mortgage capacity may be limited due to their age, the allocation of the matrimonial resources must be carefully considered.

There are now a number of options for resolving the division of the matrimonial finances – ranging from mediation and arbitration to negotiation through solicitors and court proceedings. An initial appointment with a solicitor can be highly beneficial to discuss options and establish how best to proceed in the most cost and time efficient way.

However, that freedom may come at a cost. Whilst the children are 'grown up' and better able to understand the reasons behind their parents' divorce, they may well be no less well able to adapt to the crumbling foundation of their family, feeling betrayed at the loss of that childhood stability and structure. Whilst there may be no court battles over the children's residence, there may well be a battle to retain the good relationships that may have been enjoyed pre-separation.

Eleanor Webster is a Solicitor in the family law team at Weightmans

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