Nothing is Black and White in “Gray Divorce”

Nothing is Black and White in “Gray Divorce”

By David Kellem

What is meant by the term “Gray Divorce?” The “gray” part signifies gray hair – and refers to married people who are in the later middle age or senior stages of life. This demographic, given their ages and their usually lengthy marital history, presents a lot of unique and challenging considerations when divorcing.  Please excuse my intended pun, but nothing is black and white in the legal and personal process of a gray divorce. 

Here are some of the challenges that people face:

  • Major Changes Late in the Game: When a gray divorce arises, people often find themselves all alone navigating a cataclysmic shift in their family environment.  Not only is a marriage collapsing and a partnership dissolving, but also it is happening in the context of children having flown the nest or preparing to do so.  One can feel lost at sea.  
  • Retirement (and perhaps income insecurity) at the Doorstep: The specter of retirement in a divorce can implicate some interesting and specialized questions about how best to divide or allocate assets and structure alimony. In Massachusetts, the interaction of asset division and alimony presents a critical convergence because the law generally terminates alimony payments when the person paying them turns age 67.  Courts do have the discretion to extend that timeline in certain compelling circumstances.  However, with people living well into their 80’s and 90’s, the prospect of having little or no external financial support for perhaps 20 years presents a difficult problem that demands a considered resolution. Assets must be divided, utilized, and structured in a way that supports both spouses. This division may not always be equal, if one spouse will receive more social security benefits from the other or has a greater opportunity to earn income or acquire assets after reaching normal retirement age.
  • Fear: Emotionally, fear can dominate the mindset of people who, after perhaps decades of marriage, suddenly finds themselves living alone, their children moved on to their own, independent lives, and their financial security is shaken. Fear breeds anxiety, especially anxiety around change. One’s thoughts can be dominated by worry about the future and persistent questions can swirl constantly: “Am I going to be o.k.? How?  Who will help me figure this out?” 

What about the prospect of dating and sex for people who have experienced perhaps decades of chronic romantic stagnation?  Literally coming out of one’s marital bubble, even an unhappy one, being thrust into a new world of change and uncertainty, can make one want to curl up in a ball.  And yet, life awaits; and opportunity offers reward for those who can find the courage to reach for it.  Courage, the ability to move forward despite despair, is accessible with the right support.  

  • Financial Confusion: With a financial life dominated by the unfamiliar rules, regulations, and logistics of Social Security, Medicare, RMD’s, and adaptations to a fixed income, how does one sort out what all of this actually means?  How does one handle these financial technicalities and limitations, especially if you have never been the money person in the marriage?  Will there be enough money to live on for the rest of your life?  Is there help available?
  • Impact on Your Children: There is no rule that says adult children handle divorce better than young children. Often just the opposite occurs. Adult children may react to the divorce like their world has blown up, and their grief may impact your divorce process as they experience their own stages of anger, denial, and bargaining. Some children, however,  may react by declaring “You should have gotten divorced long ago and your bad marriage made us all miserable.” What??? You might have stayed in a bad marriage for the sake of the children.  How do you handle that kind of information and how do you step forward into a new relationship with your children, healing these wounds?
  • Where is Home? And finally, but not least importantly, where will you live? The marital home you have lovingly tended to so many years may just be too big for one person’s comfort, too expensive to maintain, and too sad to hold on to. How do you sell it?  Will there be a lot of taxes to pay if it is sold? Where will you live next and what will it cost?   If you decide to keep the marital house but have major amounts of equity (money) tied up in it, how do you get that money out to live on?  

The mission of Vesta is to help people navigate divorce in a knowledgeable, supported, healthy way that promotes a successful post-divorce life. The challenges and uncertainties of Gray Divorce are right within our wheelhouse of expertise. We love to help. You can do this.     

To contact David Kellem: Tel: 551-444-2609  –  Email:

David’s strengths in family law draw on his broad legal background. Before forming David Kellem Law Group, P.C., he spent 25 years representing clients in a wide range of areas that relate to family law: divorce, real estate, business representation, litigation, and wills and estates. David’s training in criminal law informs his representation of clients in restraining order and abuse cases. From 1983 to 1987, he prosecuted street-crime cases in Manhattan as an assistant district attorney with the New York County District Attorney’s Office. His work included jury trials, grand jury presentations, and appeals involving cases of murder, robbery, narcotics sales, burglary, weapons possession, and sexual assault. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University, David graduated with honors from Suffolk University Law School in 1981. He honed his writing skills as lead articles editor of the Suffolk University Law Review and after graduation as a law clerk to the Honorable Joseph R. Weisberger of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. David has a special interest in family mediation and is dedicated to its growth and development. 

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