There is a popular consensus that divorce rates in the United States are sky high and climbing fast, but the truth is that actual rates of divorce have settled over the last decade of so for all age groups…except one. We are in what some experts have called, the “gray divorce revolution.” A study out of Bowling Green State University found that the rate of couples divorcing in their 50s doubled between 1990 and 2010. Today, one in four divorces is between a couple in their 50s.
Are you considering a later-in-life divorce? Such a move may offer the freedom you desire from an unhappy marriage, but it will also come with heavy consequences. Whereas young couples who have only been married a few of years can easily untie their shared assets and rebound from the financial setback, your situation is different.
You may have to divide nearly a lifetime’s worth of shared assets and face a huge financial loss just as you are reaching the finish line of your working life. What will a divorce after 50 mean for your retirement plans? Will you even be able to retire on time? The answer could be a yes, but it comes with several caveats. Here’s what you’ll need to do to retire on time even after a divorce in your 50s.
Step One: Assume You Will Lose Half of Your Retirement Savings
As financially painful as it is, you need to come to terms with the fact that your retirement savings are going to take a massive hit. If you live in a community property state (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin), then all the retirement savings you and your husband saved during your marriage will be equally split between you both.
If you live in a different state, it is still likely that you will lose close to half or more of your savings. Just acknowledging this fact will help you shift your perspective and begin to reimagine your retirement goals. You can’t have the retirement you were planning after a big divorce unless you and your husband were extraordinarily wealthy. However, that doesn’t mean that you still can’t have some form of retirement. (Read More: What Does Divorce Mean for My 401(k)?)
Step Two: Determine Your Post-Retirement Income
Now that you have an idea of what your retirement savings will look like, it’s time to get a better idea of what income you can expect. Now is the time to calculate your estimated Social Security payments and your spouse’s Social Security payments. Few women realize this, but if you were married to your husband for at least ten years, then you can qualify to receive Social Security Derivative Benefits from your spouse, which is equal to half of his Social Security benefits. If that amount is more than your Social Security Benefits, then you can take the derivative benefits instead of your own!
You should determine if you are eligible for alimony (also known as spousal support or maintenance) from your husband. If you didn’t work during your marriage, or if he significantly out-earns you, then you have a good case for at least some alimony payments for as long as your spouse is employed. Just be aware that your husband may be able to lower or eliminate his alimony payments when he retires.
Step Three: Seek Divorce Mediation or a Collaborative Divorce
At a time when you are going to be losing a significant chunk of your assets and savings, there’s no point in giving more of your shriveled nest egg to your divorce attorney than necessary. Seeking divorce mediation or a collaborative divorce can save you thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars during your divorce. Even if you can’t stand to be in the same room as your husband, it is still in your best interest to seek mediation. Fortunately, most couples in their 50s no longer have minor children in their care, so contentious questions over child custody and child support will likely not apply.
Step Four: Find a Living Situation that Works
We have written extensively about how dangerous it can be for women to try to keep their homes after a divorce. Many women feel an emotional connection to their homes, but don’t realize how hard it will be to cover the mortgage payment, property taxes, insurance, utilities, and everyday repairs from a single salary.
Now that you have lost half of your retirement savings, you will need to try to play catchup by saving as much as you can. This means living below your means. It may be a good idea to consider downsizing your living situation or even renting instead of buying. The money you save each month can go into your retirement savings.
Step Five: Ramp Up Your Savings
You can’t get back the unhappy years of your marriage or the half of your retirement account that your husband took in the divorce, but you can take control of your financial future and begin building back what you lost. Though you may not be able to entirely recover your retirement savings by the time you turn 65, you should still try to put as much away as you can.
Live below your means and fund your 401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans up to their limit, which was $18,000 as of this writing. (IRAs and Roth IRA annual saving limits are $5,500). Don’t forget that anyone over 50 can make catchup contributions of $6,000 to workplace plans and $1,000 to traditional or Roth IRAs. (Read More: Making Up for Lost Time.)
Step Six: Reimagine Your Retirement
Even if you save as much as you can, it is likely that you won’t be able to enjoy the exact same retirement that you originally planned, especially if your husband was the main breadwinner. However, just because your retirement will look different doesn’t mean you can’t retire at all. Instead of trying to stretch your smaller nest egg to cover your original retirement plans, go back to the drawing board.
Knowing what you have saved up and how much income you can expect after retirement can help you come up with a new plan that fits your current situation. That may mean living in a smaller home, working for a few more years, or even taking on part-time work after you leave your career. This is the perfect time to sit down with a financial planner to help you reimagine a retirement that fits your new life and the new you.
Need help planning your divorce? Hear from divorce experts and get the resources you need at the next Second Saturday Divorce Workshop in your area. You can also find tons of resources right here in our divorce article archive.