The Gray Divorce Is Sweeping the Nation — What Is It and Why Is It Happening?

The gray divorce revolution is picking up steam. Many older couples are choosing to get divorced and not just settle if they aren't happy.

Jennifer Tisdale - Author

Aug. 29 2023, Updated 1:53 p.m. ET

Socialite and actor Zsa Zsa Gabor, who was famously married nine times, knew a thing or two about divorce. She once said, "You never really know a man until you have divorced him." She certainly approached what can be a painful situation with humor and quips that resonate to this day. "I'm a great housekeeper," said Zsa Zsa. "Every time I get a divorce, I keep the house." Put that on a t-shirt.

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Not everyone needs to get married and divorced several times before zeroing in on what they want out of life. In fact, some folks are finding that they know what they need after one marriage and it might not be a partner. There's a new option in town called a gray divorce and it's a revolution of sorts. What is it, and does it involve hiding a painting of your marriage in an attic so it never ages or changes? We hope not.

 Melinda Gates and Bill Gates speak during the Lin-Manuel Miranda In conversation with Bill & Melinda Gates panel
Source: Getty Images

Melinda and Bill Gates are part of the gray divorce revolution

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What is the gray divorce revolution?

According to CNN, when Al and Tipper Gore divorced in 2010 researchers became interested in how common it was for people their age, 62 at the time, to get divorced. Susan L. Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, along with a colleague found that "from 1990 to 2010, the divorce rate for people over 50 in the United States had doubled." They coined the phrase "gray divorce revolution" to describe this phenomenon.

This trend is continuing to rise and it's not just celebrities and politicians, though Justin Trudeau and his wife announced their separation in August 2023. After TikTok user @BnB1980 wrote about gray divorce, a reader messaged her with a story about a 57-year-old man whose wife decided to leave him.

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It's a tale as old as time, with a few new twists. After announcing she was done, the wife moved in with a friend. The husband completely fell apart. It turns out he wasn't capable of taking care of himself, which was his own doing. When he finally came to terms with the fact that his wife wasn't coming back, he asked his daughters to come clean the house. When they refused, he reached out to an old mistress. She also said no. This story is quite common.

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There are numerous reasons why people choose to get a gray divorce.

Susan Myers is a divorce attorney in Houston who is well-versed in the reasons why people divorce later in life. "I had one client tell me, ‘I do not want to die next to that man — I’m out," she shared with CNN. Something that has escalated the rise in gray divorces is the COVID-19 pandemic. "I’ve seen a pretty sharp increase in mature couples who have adult children and probably have some grandchildren," she said.

What really seems to stand out is the amount of people who truly don't want to spend the remaining years of their lives with the "wrong person." It's not surprising to learn that a lot of couples merely "drifted apart" while others sadly were suffering in an abusive situation and finally had enough.

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Thankfully there is help out there. Lynn, who goes by @herretirement on TikTok, is a retirement mentor who has opened up some dialogue about a gray divorce, particularly as it pertains to women financially. The wife tends to suffer more when it comes to money because women live longer and on the whole, are paid less. "In fact, women's income goes down 27 percent while men's goes up 10 percent," shares Lynn.

In terms of protecting yourself while in the process of getting a divorce, gray or otherwise, Lynn suggests talking to a certified divorce financial analyst. While this can help you during the divorce process, Lynn says it's absolutely vital that you prepare for a post-divorce life. Make sure you have a strong support system. Take care of yourself. It's OK to be selfish during this time.

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