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Divorce boom. Divorce rates in the U.S. have steadily declined for almost two decades—except among one segment of the population that has seen an uptick. Called "gray" divorce, those over 50 are leaving their spouses at twice the rate they did in the 1990s (and for those over 65, the divorce rate has tripled), according to a 2022 study published in The Journals of Gerontology. No spouse comes out of a divorce unscathed. Older men living alone are lonelier than their female counterparts, but women, generally speaking, have more to lose financially.

In heterosexual marriages, women are more likely than men to drop out of the workforce in their prime earning years to care for children, putting them at a disadvantage in divorce proceedings. After a split, many women must re-enter the labor force, potentially for the first time in decades. A 2021 study from The Journals of Gerontology finds that women 50 and older who divorce experience a 45% decline in their standard of living, compared to 21% for men, and Pew finds they are more likely to live in poverty than men.

That said, Kelly Mould, senior vice president and financial advisor at Johnson Financial Group, told me that it’s usually women in heterosexual relationships who initiate divorce post-50. By this time, children are usually grown and out of the house, and older women may have built up the courage to strike out on their own, rather than stay in unhappy marriages.

That was the case for Kimberlee Davis, who divorced her husband in her early 50s, despite significant financial fallout. Davis hadn’t worked in the corporate world for over a decade. She'd paused her career to support her husband in his and to care for their three children. But she had always been ambitious. When her marriage ended, it took years to rebuild her credit and earn enough to start saving.

Now 65, Davis is a financial advisor and author, and is thriving in her new life. She still has to catch up on her retirement savings, she says, but she’s remarried, owns a home, and even bought herself a race car. The divorce was a “nuclear explosion” in her life, she says, but the freedom she’s found has been worth it.

Mould encourages both spouses to have their own financial advisor and lawyer to advocate for them throughout a divorce. And Davis advises couples to get prenuptial agreements that outline what one spouse is entitled to financially if they give up their career to be the family caretaker. And always keep tabs on all of your family's financial accounts, even if you're not the one working outside the home.

“Maybe you'll have to live on a tighter budget,” Davis says of post-divorce life, “but the freedom and the chance to go self-realize and live the life you wanted is worth more than any financial stress.”

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