How Divorce Affects Couples by Age or Stage of Life
Divorce takes a toll on everybody, no matter who you are or what stage in life you’re at. Of course, divorce affects people differently depending on their age, the number and age of their children, and their financial circumstances. One thing is for sure, though: dealing with the emotional fallout of a divorce is hardly a breeze for anybody, regardless of age or wealth…
Marriage as an institution has faced some interesting challenges in the past fifty years. Many people are often left wondering what a marriage is supposed to bring to their lives. It isn’t a stretch to say that many folks get caught up in the fantasy of wedded bliss, rather than the reality of what it means to make a lifelong promise to another person.
The reality is: people change, and relationships change with them. If you are considering divorce, we understand that this decision will also bring even more change in to your life. It’s an extremely difficult decision to make, and you still may be considering your options. We are here to bring the stability you are looking for – to provide the support you need during this uncertain transition.
While our initial consultation will center around discussing your unique situation and what we can do to help, there are some consistencies we have noticed throughout the years that we can prepare you for. Depending on various age groups or family design, there are a few select problems that are common. Let’s look at some of the ways divorce affects couples from specific demographics.
Divorce for Young Couples
Did you know that men and women in their twenties are the age group that has the highest divorce rate in the United States? This has been a continuing trend since the turn of the millennium and may be owed in part to the increasing fragmentation of social support networks in American society. Many divorcees in their twenties often feel shame, grief, or a sense of failure over their divorce; this is totally normal and, in a way, expected. Twenty-somethings change dramatically during this tumultuous decade. It’s not uncommon to see young couples divorcing due to major shifts in their personalities, values, or interests over the years.
However, one of the upsides of divorcing in your twenties is you may not have a lot of property or assets to split up. What’s more, many young couples in their twenties don’t have children, so they don’t have to worry about any custody or visitation orders, either. If you and your spouse or domestic partner don’t have much to your name and want out, you’re in luck. All you’ll have to do is have your local Family Law Facilitator at the court help you prepare the proper documents.
If you meet certain requirements, you may be able to file for a Summary Dissolution instead of an outright divorce. In order to qualify for a Summary Dissolution as a married couple, you have to have been married for less than five years (calculated from the marriage date to the separation date), have no children and not be expecting any children, do not rent or own any buildings or land parcels, do not owe more than $6,000 in debts acquired during the marriage period, have acquired less than $45,000 worth of assets during the marriage period, do not have separate property assets worth more than $45,000, agree that neither spouse will receive spousal support, and have signed an agreement dividing your property and debts. More details can be found here.
This process is almost exactly the same for domestic partners, with the only difference being domestic partners must not have acquired any community or separate property assets that exceed $43,000, which is $2,000 less than married couples’ $45,000 limit.
If you think a Summary Dissolution may work for you as a young couple (or otherwise), consider the following questions:
- How much property have my spouse or domestic partner and I acquired over the duration of our marriage or partnership?
- How much debt have we acquired during our marriage?
- Will I be financially okay without spousal or partner support?
Divorce with Young Children
Divorce becomes infinitely more complicated once children get involved, especially if they’re pre-teens or younger. The most pressing question a married couple with young children will face is how they’ll successfully co-parent their children. Many times, hopeful divorcees with young children may ask themselves these additional questions:
- How much time will I get to spend with my children?
- What happens if my monthly income goes down, is seasonal, or I lose my job? Will I be able to change my child support order?
- Who will make the important decisions for the kids?
- How will I explain to my children what’s happening?
Couples with young children who are going through particularly contentious divorce proceedings will probably worry more about custody and visitation rights. Unfortunately for these couples, judges will often have to make these decisions for them since they’re often unable to reach an agreement themselves.
Most of the time, you and your spouse or domestic partner’s attorneys will try to reach agreements regarding spousal or partner support, child support, and custody or visitation rights. Attorneys can make these orders as part of a legal dissolution proceeding (i.e., divorce, legal separation, or annulment), and you can request modifications to these orders through your local divorce court. Family Law Facilitators offer complementary document preparation services so that you make no mistakes when submitting requests for these changes.
If you find yourself in the thick of a heated divorce case, try your best to not badmouth your spouse or partner in front of your children. What’s more, try to avoid arguing or fighting in front of them as well. Their emotional welfare is far more fragile than either you or your spouse or partner’s. What young children need the most is to know that their parents will still be there for them, even if that means their parents will no longer be living under the same roof.
If your children are younger than 18 months old, try to reassure them with hugs, kisses, and cuddles, as verbal explanations won’t mean much to them. Since little kids have trouble expressing these complicated emotions, try to do it for them using simple language.
For young children that have developed comprehensive language skills, you can use age-appropriate language to explain what’s happening. The important thing is to be honest, reassure your children that neither you nor your spouse or partner will leave them, and that they will always be loved and cared for.
For example: “I know and can see that you’re upset Mommy isn’t here, but you will see her tomorrow. I know it’s hard, sweetie, but she and I love you very much and we will always be here to take care of you.”
Divorce With Teenage Children
Divorce proceedings where teenage children are involved present some unique advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, teenagers can much more readily understand everything that’s happening with their parents’ divorce. The bad news is teenagers are much more likely to negatively express their feelings. This can be displayed in ways like siding with one parent over the other, emotionally shutting out one or both parents, or expressing a newfound resistance to parental authority. Many times, divorce inflicts emotional wounds on teens that often last into adulthood.
This emotional fallout often leaves the parents of teens distraught. Many parents of teens who are going through a divorce may wonder how they can get their relationship with their teenage children back on track. One unique approach to this is letting your teen have a say in custody and visitation rights.
Even though parents and/or judges ultimately make these custody decisions, it’s important to support your teen’s burgeoning autonomy by allowing them to voice their thoughts and feelings regarding legal and physical custody. Not only will this help you and your spouse or partner reach a custody agreement, but it shows your teen that you value their opinions and emotional welfare when it comes to making these tough family decisions.
Teens are especially vulnerable to substance abuse or other wayward behaviors while a divorce is going on. It may be tempting to let your teen do whatever they want as a way of expressing your guilt and love for them. However, teens more so need guidance than unfettered freedom at this time. They still need you to be a stable, loving parent rather than a buddy. So, keep it as amicable as possible–both with your kids and your spouse or domestic partner.
Keep in mind, that your custody and visitation agreements will have to account for your teen’s social life, as well. Try not make these agreements too stringent or time-consuming, as your teen will greatly appreciate any independence and freedom you give them. What’s more, these agreements should also account for your teen’s after-school or extracurricular activities, which are crucial for them to continue in this period of increasing uncertainty.
Divorce in Blended Families
Contrary to popular belief, the second and third times are not necessarily the charm; 60 percent of second marriages fail, and that rate rises to 70 percent if kids are involved on both sides. What this means is that these blended families face some seriously unique problems–all of which are manageable, though.
A blended family is a family where two, formerly-married people with children marry each other and fuse their respective families. There are a few pitfalls that spouses or domestic partners in this type of family face when pursuing a divorce. For instance, child support issues can be a bit complicated. This is because one or both spouses or domestic partners may already have child support orders from their previous marriages or domestic partnerships. Such orders may affect the amount of support available for the divorcing couple’s children. The same goes for assets, which are just as much of a headache to divide in this type of divorce proceeding.
Here is a word of advice to anyone considering blending their family with another’s: consider signing a prenuptial agreement. This can help smooth out a lot of wrinkles that crop up in blended family divorce proceedings, as most of the property and asset divisions will be decided before the marriage or domestic partnership is made legal. Blended family divorce proceedings without prenuptial agreements can be much longer and more drawn out. Save yourself the trouble and get a prenup.
Divorce in LGBTQIA+ Couples
Gay couples and other couples in the LGBTQIA+ community face an extra hurdle in divorce proceedings: they often have to legally dissolve a marriage and a domestic partnership in order to finalize the legal dissolution of their union. While these couples often face a lot of the same problems that heterosexual couples do in divorce proceedings, there are other special factors that may contribute to the disintegration of their relationship.
For as stabilizing as the generally egalitarian nature of LGBTQIA+ relationships can be, they are also more likely to suffer the negative effects of some circumstances outside of their control, such as workplace or employment discrimination and intolerant families of origin, both of which can harm the health of the relationship.
Another legal limitation LGBTQIA+ couples may face is having long-term partnerships treated as short-term relationships during divorce proceedings. To illustrate this, let’s think about a LGBTQIA+ couple who have been together for a couple decades, but may have only been legally married for a few years. In this case, the judge may divide their property and assets according to the length of the legal marriage, and not the entire relationship itself.
Child custody and visitation rights are more complicated in LGBTQIA+ couples’ divorce proceedings as well, most notably in the non-biological parent’s establishment of parentage. Adoption and other legal proceedings can help the non-biological parents form legal ties to their child, which will not only smooth out child custody visitation rights during a divorce proceeding, but any inheritance rights the child or children may enjoy when they are older.
Fortunately, California is one of the few states that makes LGBTQIA+ couples’ lives easier when adopting non-biological children. If the LGBTQIA+ couple legally marries, then the non-biological parent may be able to adopt the child or children as a stepparent would in a heterosexual marriage. For this reason, marriage may be useful for LGBTQIA+ couples when attempting to adopt non-biological children. California also allows married LGBTQIA+ couples to exercise ‘marital presumption,’ meaning a person is assumed to be the natural child of the parent if they are married to the spouse or domestic partner who is giving birth.
Divorce in the Golden Years
Just because a couple is a bit older and wiser than most doesn’t mean their marriage is guaranteed to last. Some couples 55 and older have already been previously married and divorced, some even multiple times. Like blended family divorce proceedings, older spouses or domestic partners may have court orders from previous marriages, which can make dividing property and assets complex.
Divorce proceedings for this age group can also be especially complicated because spouses or domestic partners can have mismatched levels of wealth. Those seeking a “gray” divorce often have postponed divorce until children are out of the home, or these empty nesters have the space to reflect and realize they want something different.
Even though it’s common to consider respective retirement funds and pension plans when pursuing a divorce, this group in particular can run in to the problem of insufficient funding to support both individuals standard of living, as they will now be supporting two households, two lifestyles, etc. In addition, there are often health issues to consider that can also increase monthly expenses.
often have to consider that life insurance beneficiaries need to be changed. There are often adult children to consider (who sometimes have children of their own), and it often also requires an updated estate plan.
Many of these issues are not even touching the surface of the emotional pain a divorce in this life stage can cause. Particularly in long marriages that are ending, couples are very set in their previous lifestyles, so this much of a difference can be shocking at first.
Older couples looking to get divorced will fare much better if they can create a detailed financial plan to understand how a divorce will bring changes to their retirement plans. Not only can this financial plan give you an idea of what your future budgets will look like, but they can help prevent bankruptcy or other financial issues you could encounter as a newly single senior.
Let Wine Country Family Law & Bankruptcy Help You
Here at Wine Country Family Law & Bankruptcy, P.C., we understand that divorce takes a toll on you no matter who you are or where you’re at in life. Fortunately, our team of empathetic, knowledgeable, and determined Napa, Ukiah, and Santa Rosa divorce lawyers can help you navigate this process as smoothly as possible.
We offer a number of family law services that can cater to your individual needs: divorce, divorce and family law mediation, child custody and visitation issues, child support, spousal support, and paternity establishment. We offer all new potential clients a discounted initial consultation of up to one hour with one of our Napa, Ukiah, or Santa Rosa family law attorneys. We offer phone and video / Zoom consultation options.
During your initial consultation, one of our Napa, Mendocino, or Sonoma County family lawyers will review the facts of your case, provide information regarding the legal process, legal concepts, and different service options, as well as offer you a fee quote for your case, if applicable.
If you’re ready to take your first step towards a healthier family life, call us today at 707-669-0841 to see how we can best serve you.