Overall, the U.S. divorce rate is declining. But the bigger picture is more complex.
So-called gray divorce is rising, while Millennials are divorcing less than previous generations. But fewer Millennial couples are getting married in the first place, which presents a different set of problems when they break up.
The marriage and divorce data reveal three distinct trends
- Gray divorce – The divorce rate has doubled among Americans over 50 and tripled among Americans over 65. Some of those are Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers on their second or third divorce. But many are empty nesters and retirees who are calling it quits after decades of marriage.
While these divorces are not driven by child custody conflicts, proper division can be very complicated and contentious when older couples have amassed sizeable marital estates. Your legal counsel should be well-versed in complex property division, including QDROs for dividing retirement accounts.
- Millennial marriage and divorce – The divorce rate is notably lower among Millennials, but not because they have “figured out” marriage. The Millennial generation (early 20s to late 30s) is marrying later. They tend to be more deliberate about choosing a life partner and more financially stable.
When they do divorce, married millennials are more likely to have prenuptial agreements and are more predisposed to the notion of 50/50 parenting, taking some of the animosity out of the process. A good lawyer will help you reach a fair divorce settlement while still protecting your interests.
- Together but not married – Many Millennials have bailed on the institution of marriage, along educational lines. While 65 percent of Millennials with advanced degrees get married, only 50 percent of Millennials with a high school education are tying the knot.
Of course, cohabitating Millennials are still having children and accumulating wealth. But when unmarried partners split up, the legal process is different. There is no presumption of equitable distribution of property. There is no mandate to share financial information. There are no grounds for alimony. Paternity actions may be necessary to establish parental rights or to compel child support. You may not have had a wedding, yet you’ll still need a divorce lawyer.
So, yes, the divorce rate is falling, but there are many different dynamics at play. Regardless of which generation you belong to or what your income or education level is, divorce is about your specific situation and your goals for the next phase of your life.