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The thorniest dispute in ‘gray divorce’

by | Jun 4, 2021 | Property division

He’s 65 and she’s 56. They’ve been married 27 years and have three children who are all young adults. Because they’re well off, both are free to pursue their individual interests in life. They appeared to be a happily married couple right up until they recently divulged that they’re going to get divorced.

They are, of course, Bill and Melinda Gates. The early May announcement that they’re going their separate ways surprised many, but their high-profile split fits neatly into a trend known as “gray divorce” – married couples who break up when they’re 50 and older.

Gray divorce soaring

While the divorce rate has long been in slow decline, the gray divorce rate has roughly doubled over the past 25 years. And for couples over age 65, the rate has tripled over that same period.

The sharp rise in gray divorce is attributed to several factors, including a change in how American society perceives divorce. It used to carry a stigma that was especially harmful to women.

In addition, lifespans continue to elongate, meaning that at age 50, people can still have decades ahead.

Unsurprisingly, gray divorce rarely includes difficult disputes over child custody and child support.

Typically thorniest gray divorce dispute

However, because many couples have by age 50 (and above), attained financial stability, property division disagreements are often among the most difficult to resolve. Because California is a community property state, the property that the couple acquired during their marriage is community property and the debt they acquired is community debt.

In a gray divorce, the division of assets can be complicated. In addition to deciding what to do with their Orange County house, couples must make decisions in negotiations or mediation regarding pensions, stocks, business interests, bank accounts and more.

Couples that can’t resolve their disputes in those ways resign themselves to facing off in court, where a judge will decide matters for them.