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Rise of the SILVER DIVORCE: "After decades of marriage in which they were focused more on the joint effort of raising the kids and making a living than they were on each other, [couples often] discover that they have grown apart, rather than together.".

WE ALL have heard the statistics: some 50% of marriages end in divorce. You might be surprised to learn, however, that, in the U.S., the divorce rate doubled between 1990-2009 among adults 50 and older. In short, the divorce rate these days is highest for the baby boom generation--those bom between 1946-64.

A lot of couples purposely wait to divorce until their children have graduated from high school in an effort to make the transition easier for all concerned. Divorce can be especially traumatic on young children because, even in the best divorces, it causes major life changes. Families often must move out of the home that they lived in during the marriage. This can mean a new school, new friends, and new activities for minor children.

Even if a spouse is able to afford to remain in the marital home, the children will have to share their time with their parents, as they shuffle from household to household. Additionally, divorce with minor children usually is more expensive and stressful for parents because there are so many more issues involved. How will parenting time be shared? Will a primary caregiver now have to join the workforce? Who, if anyone, will remain in the marital home? It is easy to see why parents, if possible, would prefer to wait for their children to leave for college before ending their marriage.

Furthermore, it sometimes is when the last child heads off to college or to that first job that many couples realize that they no longer have anything in common now that the nest is empty. After decades of marriage in which they were focused more on the joint effort of raising the kids and making a living than they were on each other, they discover that they have grown apart, rather than together.

That is why so many relationship specialists suggest that invested couples enjoy "date night" and similar activities together--to strengthen their relationships while they still can. Successfully married couples understand that their relationship with each other is just as important, and takes just as much work, as their relationships with their children.

As children leave and spouses realize that they have drifted apart (for any number of reasons), it is far easier than ever before to spouse shop, to trade in the old model for a new one. Many spouses find themselves confronted by the "grass is always greener" dilemma. Do they stay in an unfulfilling (or worse) relationship in which they have little left in common with their boring spouse, or do they try again for the golden ring with someone else?

The fact that women participate in the workplace nearly as often as men these days also contributes to this phenomenon. The workplace is an outstanding venue in which to look for romance, peopled as it is with those who spend more of their waking time together during the week than the spouses likely do. Tackling a tough work issue with an employee, or experiencing a work success with another, can be a tantalizing aphrodisiac that sparks the flames of seduction in a workplace relationship.

The rise of the Internet also plays a part. As spouses come to the realization that they no longer have anything to talk about, they often reach out to old high school or college sweethearts and reconnect. It is frightening how easy it is to fall in love over the Internet, but especially so when the couple have a history together that they can share. While these online romances are far from reality, as both sides are able to show each other only what they want the other to see, they can create an irresistible temptation, especially when one's real intimate relationship is less than fulfilling.

Then there is the rest of the family, the now-adult children who may come home to live when they cannot find a job, or when they are getting divorced, or perhaps because they have become disabled and have nowhere else to go. The differences of opinion that the couple may have experienced in raising their children when they were small may have seemed minor back then. Now, as their children have aged into young adults and older, new disagreements as to how to provide for them and what roles those parents will play in the adult child's life, as well as the simple stress of having another adult in the home that the two spouses share, can lead to the divorce of those parents.

More economic opportunities for women, decreased social stigma, better health, and longer life expectancies all contribute to the higher rate of divorce for those over age 50. This still-youthful, fit, and lively generation is not content just to idle into old age in a non-fulfilling relationship. Rather, baby boomers are willing to make major life changes in order to ensure that their silver years meet then-expectations, especially if, when they were young, they divorced once before. It is a well-known fact that remarriages are at greater risk of divorce than first marriages because, quite frankly, if you have been divorced once, it is not nearly as scary the second time.

Finally, there are the truly silver folks who have stopped coloring their hair and who are not just over 50, but over the hill and on their downward slide. Often, the changes that accompany old age can be difficult for one of the spouses to deal with. Couples may divorce when one spouse becomes fixated on an age-old disagreement. He says she cheated on him and she says she did not. When did she allegedly cheat on him?--50 years ago, but because of his senility, he raises the issue every day. She simply cannot take it anymore, and divorces him.

Divorce impacts older generations differently than younger generations. While the largest issues for younger divorcing couples usually are focused on how to continue to emotionally and financially support minor children after the end of the relationship, older couples are likely more interested in how to ensure that they both are financially secure during their golden years. Alimony awards are more common, and marital assets are more abundant. Individuals are nearing or at the end of their income-producing years; thus, wealth maintenance is of the utmost importance.

So, how do you know if divorce is the right option for you, especially if you have been married for decades? It can be an intimidating, and perhaps exciting, thought. Over the years, you and your spouse likely have taken on very specific roles. One of you may be the primary wage earner, while the other is the primary caregiver (if not of children, then of the home and the wage earner). Maybe you have not been a member of the workforce for decades, if ever. Maybe you never have taken out your own garbage, pumped your own gas, or cooked your own meals. Will you be happier with these new responsibilities? Is divorce worth it, or is there still hope for your marriage? How can you responsibly make such an important, life-changing decision?

Discernment counseling focuses a therapist on helping a couple to decide whether they should remain married or initiate divorce proceedings. It is different from regular marriage counseling because, rather than focusing on keeping a couple together, its sole purpose is to assist the couple in determining whether they should continue in the marriage.

Unlike traditional marriage counseling in which the counselor meets with the couple together, in discernment counseling, the counselor typically first meets with the couple together, then with each individual privately, and then with the couple together again. While regular marriage counseling is an open-ended process, discernment counseling usually is completed within five sessions. The result is either a plan for how the couple can work to stay together in a healthier, happier way, or instead, an agreement that the couple will divorce.

The role of the discernment counselor is to guide the couple to understand whether they both are willing to work hard to save their marriage. If both spouses would like to do so, the intense relationship work begins, similar to marriage counseling, as both individuals learn how to contribute more effectively to their marriage.

After six months, the counselor revisits the question with the couple, whether they would like to stay together. At this point, they will have more clarity and knowledge as to whether that really is a viable option for them.

Discernment counseling not only is helpful to couples when both spouses are uncertain if they should stay together, but it may be effective when one spouse has determined that he or she is ready to end the marriage. This type of counseling for these "mixed agenda" couples creates a holding pattern in which the couple is guided by the therapist to evaluate their relationship and determine their needs for their futures when divorce is inevitable.

Typically, one spouse will lag behind the other in the grief process and acceptance of the death of the marriage. "Mixed agenda" discernment counseling can allow that individual to catch up emotionally with the other. This can make the ensuing divorce process less painful, acrimonious, and expensive.

Regardless of whether the spouses divorce, discernment counseling can help them in the long run because they learn relationship and communication skills that will improve their current, restructured relationship and their relationship going forward.

At any age, deciding whether to divorce likely will be the biggest, scariest decision of your life. Discernment counseling can help a couple either stay together or become more comfortable in their decision to dissolve their marriage in a healthier way.


Joryn Jenkins is a former trial attorney now in private practice at Open Palm, Tampa, Fla., where she concentrates on the courtless practice of family law. She is the former editor of the family law Commentator of the Florida Bar and former editor-in-chief of both The Federal Lawyer and The Bencher magazines, as well as the author of several books, including I Never Saw My Father Again: The Divorce Court Effect,' A Free Divorce Handbook: How to Organize a Collaborative Divorce Pro Bono Project; Changing the Way the World Gets Divorced (Marketing Your Collaborative Practice); and, most recently, War or Peace: Avoid the Destruction of Divorce Court, from which this article is adapted.
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Title Annotation:LIFE IN AMERICA
Author:Jenkins, Joryn
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Nov 1, 2018
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