Between 1993 and 2003, Canada’s overall divorce rate fell by more than 11%. The most recent statistics available, compiled in 2005 by Statistics Canada, indicated that the divorce rate was hovering around 40%.
However, the same study found that divorce rates for persons over 50 years of age had increased markedly. Similarly, a recent study conducted by Bowling Green State University confirmed that American divorce rates among couples over 50 had doubled within the last 20 years.
The conclusion is clear: Boomer marriages are falling apart at a growing rate, bucking an overall trend towards fewer divorces among members of other generations. Why is this?
There are several factors that can explain rising Boomer divorce rates. One statistical factor, of course, is that the divorce rates for those who are in second or subsequent marriages are considerably higher than those in first marriages. The statistics include these subsequent divorces.
However, there are also contributing sociological and demographic factors. First and foremost is the “empty nest syndrome.” Increasingly, couples look towards individual self-fulfillment after their parental duties have been discharged. With increasing life expectancies, individuals are looking at their spouses and asking themselves: “Do I want to spend the rest of my life with this person?”
Boomers’ increased financial affluence is also a factor, as couples are less likely to stay together for financial reasons. Thirdly, Boomers have high expectations of marriage, individual freedom, autonomy, and the ability to “start over.” Finally, there are changed notions about the institution of marriage itself: divorce no longer bears a stigma and cohabitation outside of marriage is a commonplace phenomenon.
Boomer divorces usually involve unique financial circumstances that warrant special attention. With respect to property issues, for example, there is a greater emphasis upon the sharing of retirement benefits. Recent Ontario legislation has recognized the importance of sharing such benefits. This should alleviate both the spectre of “double dipping” and the concern that one’s capital will not generate sufficient income in a low-interest rate environment. Of special concern will be survivor benefits within pension plans, the Canada Pension Plan, and the sharing of C.P.P. credits. The days of “she gets the house and he keeps the pension” are over.
The issue of spousal support will also pose problems. The introduction of the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines has contributed to a regime of “deemed self-sufficiency” due to the rigorous imposition of time limits by the courts. The possibility of default by the payor spouse increases with age, due to the payor’s job loss, retirement, or death. Therefore, the provision of adequate security – including life insurance – will take on greater significance. The potential loss of health care coverage is also a significant consideration.
While divorcing Boomers are less likely to become involved in custodial battles, the impact of divorce upon the children is nevertheless an important consideration. Irrespective of their ages, it is a painful experience for a child to see his or her parents quarrelling and splitting up. Involving the “adult children” in the parental marital discord robs the divorcing couple of an ongoing relationship with their children and possibly even their grandchildren.