No. of over 60s getting divorced up by three quarters
Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show a sharp rise in the number of so called “silver splitter” divorces.
The ONS pointed to increased life expectancy as the most likely cause of the phenomenon.
Other possible reasons offered are the more permissive attitudes towards divorce among the “baby boomer” generation (when compared to their parents) and greater financial independence among women.
Lawyers have also noticed that the desire of one partner to travel on a late life “gap year” can sometimes be a catalyst for divorce.
Men and divorce
According to the statistics from 2011 (the latest available), there were 15,300 divorces among men and women over 60 compared to 8,700 in 1991.
This trend occurred against a backdrop of a declining overall divorce rate.
In contrast to other age groups, the figures show that men over 60 are as likely to file for divorce as women.
This has prompted divorce lawyers to suggest the cause for some men as a “delayed midlife crisis” and for others a feeling that they had fulfilled their responsibilities to their wife and children before starting a new life.
In 1991, a 60 year old man in England could expect to live another 21 years. This has now increased to 26 years and the trend for women is similar.
The ONS commented: “This means that even with a small chance of divorce during each year of marriage, marriages are now more likely to end in divorce and less likely to end in the death of one spouse than they were in 1991.”
Baby boomer phenomenon
Head of the family department at Pannone Solicitors, Andrew Newbury, observed: “In the past you had midlife crises in fortysomething men – what we are tending to see now is sixtysomething men running off with fortysomething women, it could be a late midlife crisis.”
He also said that some men chose to “do their duty” and postpone splitting up until their children have grown up.
Mr Newbury further explained: “What we also tend to see, which is surprising, is people suddenly wanting to travel the world – it is the ‘bucket list’, the idea of having 1001 things you should do before you die.
“Certainly when you are looking at the baby boomer generation, a lot of those people have immense amounts of financial security: they have ridden across several housing booms and they have generally got decent pensions.
“I think this could be a baby boomer phenomenon.”
Louise Halford, who works in family law at Irwin Mitchell, said: "It is unfortunate but simply not uncommon in modern times to see couples drift apart as a result of ‘empty nest syndrome’, when their children head off to university or move out of the family home.
“This can have a major impact on the dynamic between a couple and bring issues to the fore which may have been hidden by their continued responsibilities to their offspring.”
In a letter published in the Telegraph, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali highlighted the importance of husbands’ and wives’ duty to one another, not just to their children. He wrote:
“Your report (August 7) tells us that older people are divorcing more frequently because they feel they have done their ‘duty’. But their duty is not just to their children but also to their partner.
“There is also a question of justice for the partner who is forsaken for romantic notions of freedom and self-fulfilment. How sad for grandchildren to find that their grandparents don’t love each other anymore. Is this the lesson in the abiding value of relationships we want to give the younger generation?
“Research tells us that divorce is likely to lead to greater loneliness, ill-health and self-neglect. It is a social ill that should be recognised for what it is, not glorified as an adventure.”