They are often billed as your ‘golden years’; the kids have flown the nest, retirement means you have more time than ever before to embrace hobbies, holidays and fun with the grandchildren, as well as getting to ‘rediscover’ your love for and relationship with your spouse, revelling in reverting back to life as one half of ‘just the two of you’.
Yet the reality is that more couples over 60 than ever are deciding that it is time to say goodbye to their marriage, as the rate of ‘grey divorce’ as it has been dubbed, rises.
And those initiating such splits are - perhaps surprisingly - the women.
“The UK statistics came out last week and divorces initiated by women are higher than those initiated by men,” reveals Canadian lawyer and author Marion Korn, who lives and works in Toronto.
“We’re not seeing a lot of extra marital affairs as being the reason, unless there have been some ongoing for a while and the other party has tolerated it. I think the key is that women are feeling more independent, and it is often the case where men play a different role in a relationship - often, they see their marriage as more structural, whereas women, I think, see their marriages as more emotional.
“Men re-partner quite quickly, so it seems to suggest that there is a structural need for them to be in a unit.”
Sixty-seven-year-old Marion, who is married to intellectual property lawyer Ken, is certainly the voice of experience when it comes to the breakdown of marriages.
Together with her colleague and fellow lawyer Eva Sachs, she founded Toronto based collaborative divorce practice Mutual Solution, and the pair have also recently written their book, When Sally Left Harry: Finding Your Way Through Grey Divorce, which is set to be officially launched in the UK on March 10.
“The decision to divorce after a long-term marriage isn’t one that happens easily or quickly,” continues the mother-of-two, who is also a founding member of the Ontario Collaborative Law Federation, as well as adjunct professor of Advanced Negotiation and Mediation at York University. She has taught workshops on the subject in Canada, the US, UK, Austria and Australia.
“Grey divorce is sad, but it doesn’t have to be a bad news story. When Sally Left Harry shows grey divorcers how they can maintain the integrity of their family throughout the process - and even end things without drama with the person they’ve spent their life with.”
Indeed, this book could be a lifeline for any couple experiencing a marriage split after decades together, sharing their lives, raising a family.
As Marion reveals, she and Eva go into a number of themes in it, such as the difference between a ‘grey divorce’ and any other divorce, why being actively involved in your divorce is the single most important factor to get the outcome you want, and how your children can help you through the process.
In short, the publication helps those going through it to experience something that need not be as traumatic, soul-destroying - or expensive - as they might presume.
“I actually went to law school later in life, and I am now in my 27th year of practising,” says Marion, adding that she was formerly an architect.
“I started out in family law and spent a number of years working in the court, and then decided fairly early on in my career that I didn’t feel it was the proper place for families to work out their differences after separation, so I became highly trained as a mediator. I actually have a Masters degree in Law that focuses only on conflict resolution.”
Through Mutual Solutions, Marion and Eva find settlements for divorcing couples and bring both legal and financial information to their clients.
“Throwing money at a very expensive court battle in your 60s is a terrible investment,” she says. “Because by the time you’re facing grey divorce what you have is what you’ve got - as we say, it is what it is.
‘‘You are on the downside of accumulation, and to take 50 or 60 thousand pounds out of what you have to live on for the rest of your life is just a terrible investment.
‘‘ Nobody’s going to get rich in their 60s. There’s no point in trying to bring somebody else down at a great cost to you. If you’re say, two or three years from your retirement, or you’ve already reached your retirement and you know that you cannot replace those monies, there is a certain inherent logic for grey divorcees in saying, ‘we want to spend as little as possible in doing this, and keep as much as possible so that we can live.’
“The other thing we are seeing a lot of is that adult children are very protective of their older divorcing parents, and don’t want to see them crippled by poverty because they’ve spent wildly on their divorce. So it’s a kind of two generational issue.”
I’m curious about the reasons why more people are leaving their spouses in their 60s than ever before, and Marion tells me that much of it is to do with that fact that it is “first full generation where women have been working independently outside the home.”
She says: “Over 60 per cent of divorces are instigated by women. So you have women out of the home, they have some financial independence - people don’t have to say, ‘well, I’m 60 I’ll never have another partner. There are so many specific dating websites and also I think that this generation is enjoying good health, better health than their parents, so we see ourselves as more vital in our 60s than our parents did.
“It’s a combination of many things. I think that at 66 if was in an unhappy marriage, and I went to the gym three times a week, and was looking across the table at somebody I didn’t like anymore, I would be thinking, ‘I’ve got another 20 years here I want to make the best of it.’
“And statistics show that a very high percentage of grey divorcees, when interviewed after the fact, say they they’re very happy with their decision to separate.”
*You can purchase your copy of When Sally Left Harry: Finding Your Way Through Grey Divorce online at www.amazon.co.uk