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Getting Older Sucks, Now Add Divorce to That?

Posted By Joy Dryer, Monday, May 2, 2016

September 29, 2015 

My Mom died  3 weeks ago just as Merri Hanson, my co-presenter, and I were finalizing our power point on the GRAYING DIVORCE JOURNEY for the Interdisciplinary Divorce Catalyst Conference in NYC October 1-4.  At 98, Mom couldn’t see well,  or hear well,  and didn’t always know where she was.  Unable to recover from an infection, her Time had come.   But her Timing couldn’t have been more poignant.  Right when Merri and I were discussing how Time is THE crucial  difference between a younger divorcee and the graying divorcee.  The “Grayee” has less Time to live, and that reality fact effects attitude, and feelings, and … well… every other decision.   

WHY DIVORCE NOW? We’ll be talking about how divorcing when you’re older raises more existential issues about what makes a happy and meaningful Life. But why would someone wait until her 60’s, 70’s,  even 80’s to divorce?  Many a Grayee will say s/he wants to make the most of  “what’s left of  her life,” and never mentions dying.   Not every Grayee is consciously aware that Death may be riding through the next town over,  or even loitering on their corner.  Or, who knows? At their door.   But we as professionals need to be aware.   Like Alice falling down the Rabbit Hole,  as we age, relationships and decisions,  regrets and goals, can turn topsy turvey.

UNIQUE MOTIVATORS.  In our two-part workshop on Sat. afternoon Oct 3, Merri and I unbraid some underground meanings of why the number of Graying divorces has skyrocketed  -- 1 in 10 in 1990,  now 1 in 4 in 2010.   We ask: "why divorce now?  at your age?!"  What are the Grayee’s unique motivators?  We define the Narrative Arc in a person’s life.  Divorce is a detour, we propose,  which can be positive or negative.  We as professionals can help make that divorcee’s detour more positive when we understand the developmental tasks we all need to tackle to progress on to the next stage of our lives., and where the Grayee gets stuck.   

WHO IS THE GRAYING DIVORCEE?  We review how attachment and developmental issues shift as we age.  How divorce seems to enter a person’s Narrative Arc  at the juncture where s/he is struggling with specific developmental tasks.   How the awareness of Time Left,  and of one’s mortality, shifts everything.   

IN-TAKE TOOL.  Based on our research,  Merri and I  devised a  “55+” In-take tool which we offer to you in Workshop Part 2.  [You can also download it directly from my website,,  go to the “Resources” page,  then to “Forms”. ]  We worked hard on this tool, pulling together the theoretical ideas we present in Part 1.  The 2 cases put into practice our major point --  that we as professionals can make specific changes so we can better serve this graying population. 

THE END.  And so here I was.  Writing up power point slides about how a Grayee’s divorce journey differs profoundly, existentially, from a younger person’s divorce journey.   Age matters.  Time matters.  Endings matter.  Mom and I had talked about how getting older sucks.  At least, many aspects of ageing are indeed painful.  And so she dies just as I’m writing about all this stuff.   Not only was death on my power point slides, but knocking at my door.  Striding in to my living room -- hood scythe and all.  Striking my consciousness right between my eyeballs.  So I’m powerfully reminded to ask the next Grayee who walks in to my office,  as the Caterpillar asks Alice in her Wonderland:  “Who are youuuuuu?” 

*Joy A. Dryer, Ph.D.  is a Psychologist/Psychoanalyst and Divorce Mediator/ Collaborative Divorce Coach/ Parent Coordinator. She was Adjunct Assoc. Professor in NYU’s Psychology Dept. Masters Program, and now maintains a private practice for over 35 years in NYC and Poughkeepsie, New York.  To make comments, or for more information, contact Dr. Dryer at

Catalyst Conference Workshops Sat.  3 Oct 2015,  Part 1:  1:10- 2:25;  Part 2: 2:30- 3:45 

Presenters: Joy A. Dryer, PhD* and Merri L. Hanson, MA^


^Merri L. Hanson, MA                                              *Joy A. Dryer, Ph.D

Peninsula Mediation & ADR                                     Psychologist/ Psychoanalyst

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Tags:  alice in psycho-socio-biologic wonderland  gray divorce 

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50 "Shades" of Gray Divorce

Posted By Jacqueline Roessler, Tuesday, April 19, 2016

 ‘Gray divorce’ cases raise new financial questions for their attorneys.

A recent Bowling Green University study reported that an astonishing 25% of all new divorce cases filed are by those age 55 and older. Is this the result of changing attitudes towards marriage and monogamy amongst the so-called “Baby Boomer” generation? 
Regardless of the reason, divorce legal and financial professionals need to sharpen the tools in their toolbox to handle some of the particular financial issues affecting gray divorce.

The first consideration that bears looking at in a new light relates to Social Security income. John, for example, is entitled to receive $2,600 per month at his age 66. Mary, a stay-at-home mom, will receive half of John’s benefit ($1,300) at her age 66 - John still keeps his full $2,600. As long as a divorced couple was married at least 10 years, each spouse is entitled to 100% of their own Social Security benefit or 50% of their spouse’s, whichever is greater. In most states, within the context of divorce, Social Security is viewed as an entitlement, not an asset of either party. Therefore, if one spouse has a larger benefit than the other, that's generally ignored in the overall settlement. To put this into context, if one party retains 100% of their monthly pension benefit, they are generally required to pay the other party an offset from other assets. Of course, Social Security is not assignable in the way that a qualified pension plan is.  However, it still constitutes an income source you can't outlive. For an aging couple who had a long term marriage, Social Security income can be a substantial portion of their combined income. Therefore, Social Security income equalization (in the form of permanent alimony) may in some states be considered  reasonable consideration in these matters.

Very few people are aware of the many ways to maximize their Social Security income. Divorced couples in particular have access to certain loopholes that can provide enhanced income over their lifetime. One example is that a divorced spouse may be able to collect spousal benefits (50% of their ex's benefit, reduced for early commencement) beginning at age 62. Upon attainment of age 66, they can switch to receiving their own (unreduced) benefit for life. That certainly complicates the question of how to equalize Social Security income via alimony.

Gray divorce professionals need to view the alimony equation through a different lens. In most jurisdictions, it's generally assumed that alimony will cease at  “normal retirement age.” However, as life expectancies lengthen, what is the new "normal?"  Forget about 65.  Many people continue to work well past the age of 70 or 75. The cessassion date for alimony in some states may be a necessary negotiation point in divorce today. Let's suppose that Michael intends to pay Susan alimony until he reaches age 65 (normal retirement age). When he turns 65, he may be surprised to learn that Susan may expect to receive alimony as long as he continues to earn wages. If there's ambiguity in the Judgment of Divorce, the resolution may only be found through post-judgment expenditures by both sides.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg; required minimum distributions, tax considerations and pensions in payout status are other significant financial concerns affecting gray divorce. I'm excited to present with my colleague, Melissa Joy, CFP of the Center for Financial Planning on "Social Security Benefits and Gray Divorce" at the upcoming Divorce Catalyst Conference in October as we delve deeper into the finances of "gray divorce." 

Tags:  alimony  divorce catalyst conference  elder divorce finances  gray divorce  pensions  Social Security Spousal benefits 

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