When the last child leaves home, mom and dad may find that they have very little left in common. Maybe they stuck with the marriage for the sake of their growing children. Maybe they’ve simply grown apart. These “empty nest” couples face a unique set of challenges when they make the decision to divorce. The same goes for “gray divorces,” those involving couples who are 55 or older. We recently surveyed these consumers, and here’s what we learned.
The Cost and Duration of Empty Nest Divorce
The cost of divorce among older couples often hinges on their ability (and willingness) to settle their differences before they wind up in an expensive trial.
The majority of empty nest couples (74% in our survey) were able to settle their alimony, property, and other issues outside of court. The empty nesters who settled their issues spent an average of $6,400 on attorneys' fees, for a total of $7,500 in costs. The average time spent on these divorces was 8 months, from filing the petition to a final settlement or judgment.
Contrast those numbers with the 26% of the empty nesters who went to trial on at least one issue. These divorces took an average of 18 months to complete and cost approximately $27,100 total, with attorneys' fees representing $16,000 of that figure. Bottom line: When divorcing “empty nest” and “gray” spouses can't see eye-to-eye on financial issues, and the court has to step in, costs and time spent on the process can skyrocket.
What Drives Up Costs in Empty Nest Divorces?
Alimony, property division, and debt division are common issues in most empty nest divorces. The more hotly disputes these issues are, the more expensive the divorce.
In many empty nest divorces, one spouse stayed home through the marriage, or gave up a career to care for the kids. Entering the job market at age 45 or older after a long hiatus isn’t the quickest route to high earnings, at least not right off the bat. The stay-at-home spouse usually needs financial support after the divorce, often for many years.
Our survey found that the “grayer” the spouses, the more the issue of alimony (spousal support) comes into play. Out of older divorcing couples without minor kids, 71% had alimony issues on the negotiating table.
The Family Home (and Other Property)
The other big issue for empty nesters is what to do with the family home and other property acquired during these longer marriages. In our survey, 94% of the spouses in these divorces had disputes over property, and 71% had disputes over debts. The longer the marriage, the more property and assets accumulated along the way -- including real estate, vehicles, investment and retirement plans, even collectibles. And all of it needs to be divided up when it’s time to divorce.
Lengthy disputes over alimony and property drive up divorce costs and draw out the process for many reasons. Learn why in our article on the average cost and duration of divorce without kids.