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What is a Gray Divorce?


Divorce is never easy, but when spouses over the age of 50 divorce after decades of marriage, it’s not only emotionally difficult, but it also comes with significant legal challenges. Many people refer to divorces that take place later in life as “gray divorces.”

It’s never too late to begin a new life and for some spouses, that new life begins when they’re over 50 or older. Whether they waited for the kids to grow up and become self-sufficient or discovered during retirement that they no longer have enough in common to remain together, older spouses have the same opportunity as younger ones to end a marriage in Colorado and begin again—a gray divorce.

What Makes a Gray Divorce in Colorado Different?

When younger couples seek a Colorado divorce, often the most contentious issues are child custody and child support. In gray divorces, child custody is rarely involved and child support doesn’t often apply. Instead, gray divorces are more likely to become contentious over the following:

  • The equitable division of marital assets
  • Spousal support

Colorado’s divorce law doesn’t necessarily demand a 50/50 division of marital assets, but it does require an equitable—or fair—division. It’s common for older couples to have more complex assets or even have a high-asset divorce than younger ones. Decades of accumulating marital property and debts as well as unwittingly comingling separate assets over time can make a gray divorce difficult to navigate. In addition, in gray divorces, it’s much more common for a settlement to include spousal support orders. (alimony).

You May Have a Lot on the Line in a Gray Divorce

Since “gray divorce” refers to a divorce in people over age 50 and after at least 20 years of marriage, they are much more likely to have a complex portfolio of assets, including real estate property, savings, investment accounts, and retirement accounts. All of these are subject to equitable distribution. Other assets may belong only to one spouse, such as an investment account they purchased before their marriage or a property they inherited.

Both spouses must disclose both their separate and marital assets and either make an out-of-court settlement agreement to divide marital assets or let a judge decide how to divide their assets fairly. For example, one spouse may take the family home while the other keeps a vacation home of lesser value, plus an RV in order to achieve a fair balance. They could also sell the property and divide the profits evenly.

Commingled Assets in a Gray Divorce

The longer spouses remain married, the more likely they are to unknowingly commingle assets that were their separate assets before they married. A spouse might have a valid claim on what the other spouse considers their separate asset in the following circumstances:

  • If one spouse allows the other access to an investment account they had before the marriage, the spouse could have a valid claim on the account
  • If one spouse owned a home or property before the marriage or inherited one during the marriage, the other spouse could have a valid claim on a share of the property if they invested significant time and/or money into improvements

Because gray divorces usually take place between couples who were married for decades, untangling their separate, marital, and comingled assets becomes challenging.

Spousal Support in Gray Divorces

In marriages of long duration, a judge is likely to approve a lower-earning spouse’s request for temporary or permanent spousal support. This is especially true if one spouse sacrificed their own education and career opportunities to support the other spouse’s career advancement in the earlier years of their marriage or if one spouse primarily stayed at home to care for the house and raise the children.

It may be difficult for an older spouse who’s been out of the workforce for some time to become self-supporting. In some cases, old age and/or disability makes complete independence impossible for one spouse, in which case the alimony order could last indefinitely or until the spouse remarries or dies.

Seek an Attorney in Fort Collins for Your Gray Divorce

Divorce is an emotional time, and often even more so for couples who had long-term marriages. If you’re over 50 and seeking a divorce, it’s important to hire a Fort Collins divorce attorney with experience in successfully navigating gray divorces in Colorado.

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