Divorce after a long marriage

Divorce is never easy. Whatever the circumstances it’s an incredibly emotional time for all involved. So why are we seeing ever increasing rates of divorce and particularly among older people who have been married for many years?


It may seem surprising that after so many years of marriage, some people make the decision that they weren’t meant to be together after all.

Often people who married young, were very different beings to their older selves. Circumstances change - children have grown up, people are more financially independent and of course outlooks alter. Many people have, over the recent pandemic, taken stock of their lives and decided to make change as they feel that ‘life’s too short’.

Recent high-profile cases include Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, both have who were married for 25 and 27 years respectively to their spouses.

Divorcing in later life can throw up all sorts of difficulties quite apart from the emotional turmoil. Couples have spent years building shared assets – homes, pensions, capital and possessions.

They may be nearing retirement age and so there is likely to be a focus on their pension provision and capital security as they will have fewer 'working years' in which to build up savings or raise mortgages. Incomes may be different particularly if one has focussed on the role of homemaker, the other working throughout, so needs and fairness are highly important factors. There will need to be careful consideration of how the parties’ income and capital needs are met and this may require the division of properties, savings and pensions

Older generations are unlikely to have put pre-nuptial agreements in place to protect their personal assets. In the UK, ‘pre-nups’ are still not legally binding, but have more strength if certain criteria - such as independent legal advice for both parties and full financial disclosure as to assets – are met. Even then, they require regular reviews over time, particularly when children arrive in a relationship and circumstances change.

What is interesting, however, is that whatever the size of the assets in the "matrimonial pot”, a separating couple can, in the case of Mr Bezos and his wife, resolve matters in a dignified fashion. He refers to “loving exploration and trial separation”. This will become much easier in just a few months’ time when one of the biggest changes to divorce law in 50 years will mean that couples don’t have to apportion blame, making proceedings less acrimonious and avoiding the need for a lengthy separation.

‘No-fault’ divorce means that couples don’t have to put forward cases of unreasonable behaviour or adultery, they will be able focus on their finances and, with the right help and open and honest communication, they can go their separate ways without an often bitter legal battle.

We are likely to have to wait until the autumn to see this law come into fruition, but it will go a long way to rectifying the outdated blame culture associated with the divorce system, and certainly should be beneficial to children many of whom often get caught up in the drawn out, hostility of their parents splitting up.

For more information contact Fiona Kellow - fkellow@thrings.com