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Indian summers perhaps after earlier hurricanes

By May 11, 2021January 24th, 2023No Comments

With news of Bill and Melinda Gates 27-year marriage failing and their financial negotiations hitting the press and a judicial criticism of 86-year-old Frederick Barclay – the previous owner of the Telegraph and the Ritz for “reprehensive behaviour” during his divorce battle with his wife of 34 years, there is much debate on whether a long marriage is more likely to hit the buffers than a shorter lived legal union.

‘Grey’ divorce or ‘silver splitters’ as such circumstances and their parties are known are much more common now than in times gone by.  The divorce rate in the over 50s has doubled since 1990 but is still much less common than in the under 50 age group.  The ‘Baby Boomers’ – those who started their 50s in 1996 – have not been so reluctant to divorce.  In 1990, one in 200 married people over 50 divorced.  In 2010 it had increased to one in 100.  However, compare these statistics to those under 50 where generally one in four marriages ends in divorce.  The rate for older couples divorcing is still vastly lower despite having doubled over a twenty-year period.

Putting aside the last year and the introspective nuances of those locked down at home day in day out with their spouse, the pinch point in the past for older couples has been primarily an empty nest with children leaving the family home for education and employment but whether you have divorced before is also a key influencing factor.  Baby Boomers who have now aged into the ‘grey’ divorce market are statistically far more likely to have divorced in their youth.  Those in marriages of less than ten years duration are nearly ten times more likely to divorce than those married for 40 years or more.

Interestingly, studies have shown that those with university degrees or those who are working are less likely to divorce.  Financial stress drives couples apart and in the absence of financial woe even a marriage which is less than ideal can remain viable.  Separate lives may revolve around busy work schedules, access to counselling, or even travel which keeps a couple who are less than harmonious together, apart.

Over the last x years, I have very rarely seen a long marriages end on a whim.  Often a couple have married because of parental pressure, mainly many decades earlier, and that couple were never entirely suited to one another from a personality perspective.  There may be unresolved resentment which has been festering for years which can only come to a head when children have left home.

Grief can, however, linger long after a marriage ends even when both agree very amicably that it is best to part.  Often there can be grief for what was good over many years rather than the feelings of bitterness which can cloud a shorter-term union.

Sometimes improved health and happiness in later life after divorce can provide solace.  There might be relief and peace after ending a manipulative or controlling marriage.

Speaking as a family lawyer, helping couples to navigate their way through arguably one of the hardest experiences anyone can face, there are some critical points, both legal and emotional, which feature highly in considerations on how to proceed in divorces of long marriages:

  1. There is a differential between incomes as more commonly the earning capacity of the wife has been impacted by bringing up children or looking after elderly parents. There has been a noticeable move away from joint lives orders (an obligation to pay maintenance until the death or retirement of the recipient) which can be lengthy and onerous. In recent years, the Court frequently prefers to achieve a clean break for both parties as soon as possible. This involves both parties having to become financially independent and support themselves.  As such, at best, a wife might expect term maintenance which would allow her to either re-train, go back into work or bide her time until she can access pension relief.
  2. There can be considerable differences between a couple on pension worth as again, often a wife may have remained at home and run family life rather than worked and this has impacted upon her pension pot at the point of divorce and her ability to build up an existing pension post-divorce. The law was changed in England and Wales to allow a Divorce Court to address that differential by way of a pension sharing order or to allow a larger share of non-pension assets using a mechanism known as set-off.


  1. The loss of a family home is often a real risk as one party cannot afford to maintain it on one income alone or, for liquidity reasons, the equity is necessary to allow each party to move on with their lives. This can be a bitter blow if the family home has proven to be security at a time when everything else appears to be at risk.


  1. Family fracture – even adult children can be badly impacted by their parent’s divorce and relationships with children often break down resulting in one or both parents having damaged relationships with both children and grandchildren.


  1. Family gatherings are often difficult with simmering resentment many years after the breakdown of a marriage. We saw points 4 and 5 brilliantly encapsulated in the breakdown of Rachel’s parents’ marriage in Friends way back in 1996.

It is often said that you should not enter matrimony lightly but equally it is wise to remember that you should not consider divorce without taking early advice from a specialist divorce solicitor.  That advice can frame conversations and avoid unnecessary battles which are expensive both in monetary and emotional terms

If you have any questions, or would like to discuss further, speak to one of our specialist Family Law solicitors on 01244 310 022 or at