The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) conducted a survey among its members which revealed that 61 percent have seen an increase in the number of divorces among people over 50 in the United States. This phenomenon has been brought to our attention by the consistent discussion of “gray divorce” in popular culture media. If we consider the celebrity news in the past 5 years, there are several “gray” couples who have called it quits: Arnold Schwarzenegger & Maria Shriver (25 years), Al & Tipper Gore (40 year marriage), Danny DeVito & Rhea Perlman (30 year marriage), Morgan Freeman and Myrna Colley-Lee (24 years of marriage), and Mel Gibson & Robyn Moore (30 year marriage). And I am sure that you can think of several more.
As the president of the AAML Alton Abramowitz said, “Baby boomers have regularly been catalysts for social change, and getting divorced in their later years appears to be one of the most recent trends.” This social upheaval ushers in many unique financial as well as psychological considerations for mediation or family law collaboration at Peace Talks. There may be many assets built up over time such as businesses, retirement funds, pensions, and vacation/rental properties which create complex property division and taxation considerations. Additionally, the physical and mental health of the spouse may present usual challenges.
For example, a threshold issue is the mental capacity of the “graying” spouse to proceed with a divorce. California law declares that a diagnosis indicating that mental illness, i.e., dementia, is not enough to negate the party’s ability to divorce. The law requires specific evidence to make a finding of incapacity. Thus, thorough investigations of the spouse’s medical, physical and psychological health may be required.
Furthermore, it is possible for someone to be adept at taking care of their physical needs, yet be totally dysfunctional with financial matters. Examining these five signs could be good indications of mental capacity: How well is the individual following his medication regimen. Does the car he is driving having dents, and dings especially on the bumpers? Have the bills been paid regularly? Does he fall often? And finally, what is his Neuro-psychological status. These observations provide direct evidence to determine capacity to proceed with mediation or collaboration.
Another wrinkle in the mediation process with other parties may be the ability to hear, to see, and process information. It is not that the intelligence has diminished, it is rather the ability to access that information rapidly, or difficulty drawing inferences when faced with new ideas. Away Peace Talks can address any of these concerns is to caucus privately with “challenged” party to explain the subtleties of their choices and confirm that the material is being understood. The mediator will also write down all crucial information to insure it was heard correctly and can be remembered.
Thus, separating in our later years presents unique challenges which Peace Talks are prepared to confront. And knowing the issues presented by “Gray Divorce” allows us to help facilitate better mediation and collaborative outcomes.1
FNT 1: Some of the material used in this article was presented at the “Gray Divorce” seminar sponsored by the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association on September 6, 2014.
PeaceTalks.com is a full service mediation law firm that specializes in helping people in Southern California settle their divorce in a sane and sensible manner. Our Divorce Mediator focus on divorce mediation, custody mediation, family law mediation, premarital mediation, collaborative divorce mediation and estate planning mediation.