Divorce after 50 hits hearts and pockets - but hope is on the horizon

16 May 2016

  • Two thirds worse off financially after split and more than a quarter end up selling the family home
  • But more than a third reported a new lease of life, including travel, career changes and new love

Whether it’s because we’re living longer, staying healthier or maybe just approaching later life with renewed vigour once the kids have moved out, there’s no disputing a rise in more mature divorces. And while a marital split brings with it financial and personal pressures, research from Nationwide Mortgages into divorce after 50 shows there is often light at the end of the tunnel.

The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that 130,743 couples divorced in the UK in 2013, down three per cent on the previous year – and the lowest overall level in 40 years. However this figure includes the 60,400 people over 50 who divorced in England and Wales during 2013 – a statistic that has risen 11 per cent in a decade, and contradicts the overall trend.

The research explores the experiences of post-50 divorcees to try to better understand the causes and effects relating to this growing demographic. It shows that despite the fact that over half (52%) of the couples interviewed had been married for 20 years or more, more than a third (34%) cited a new love interest as the reason for their split. Almost a quarter (22%) felt they’d grown apart and one in seven (15%) said the split was their partner’s call.

The findings reveal a number of interesting points relating to older divorces, including:

What happened to the family home?

With many in this category being empty nesters, we asked what effect their split had on their housing situation:

  • More than a quarter (28%) reported selling the family home – with 13 per cent downsizing and eight per cent moving into rented accommodation as a result.
  • More than half (54%) reported one partner staying in the family home.
  • A further eight per cent of this age group did not own their home in the first place.

What else was split?

With assets accumulated over many years of marriage, we asked which were divided at divorce:

  • More than two in five (42%) split the house.
  • More than a quarter (26%) split their savings.
  • One in five (21%) split furniture.
  • 14 per cent split pensions.
  • One in ten (10%) split the sale of their car.
  • Six per cent split family heirlooms.
  • Three per cent split ownership of pets.

What effect did divorce have on finances?

The average monthly income of those surveyed, including state pension, was just £514.51. However, a fifth (21%) earn or receive more than £1000 each month, while 11 per cent get £1,500 plus.

  • Approaching two thirds of those surveyed (58%) reported the split had left them worse off.
  • More than a quarter (28%) said it left them struggling financially (31% of women versus 23% of men).
  • However one in eight (15%) were left financially better off (18% of men, compared to 13% of women).

Where did they go for advice about their divorce?

  • While 45 per cent used a solicitor, 38 per cent got no advice and eight per cent relied on friends and family.

What effect did the split have on family relationships?

  • For almost half (44%) splitting made no difference, seeing children/grandchildren as much as before.
  • One in five (22%) saw less of their offspring post-divorce (36% of men, compared to 12% of women).
  • But one in seven (16%) saw their children/grandchildren more after divorce.
  • However, half (51%) don’t keep in touch with their ex’s family and more than a quarter (28%) don’t keep in touch with joint friends.

But it’s not all bad news!

While almost two in five (38%) said their divorce was not amicable, 55% said they were happier as a result. The research also suggested that men are more likely to meet someone else, while women are more likely to travel, get a job and enrol on a course, post their split.

  • Nearly four in ten (38%) met someone new (52% of men, compared to just 28% of women).
  • More than a third (36%) reported a new lease of life - three in ten (30%) pursued new activities.
  • 35 per cent travelled on their own or with friends or family (45% of women travelled with friends or family post-divorce, compared to just 24% of men).
  • 27 per cent reported financial independence.
  • 26 per cent got a new job (30% of women, compared to 19% of men).
  • 26 per cent redecorated the house.
  • 25 per cent met up with friends or family they’d lost touch with.
  • 24 per cent took up a new hobby (28% of women, compared to 18% of men).
  • 15 per cent signed up to a dating agency (18% of men, compared to 13% of women).
  • 14 per cent enrolled on a course (20% of women, compared to just 6% of men).

Andrew Baddeley-Chappell, Nationwide’s Head of Savings for Mortgages & Savings, commented: “Divorce is clearly a major step that should never be undertaken lightly, and this research highlights the impacts on those who have gone through the process in later life, including some concerning figures on the level of advice sought and the financial impacts on one or both parties. Many had to sell the family home, downsize or move into rented accommodation, and the majority were left worse off, with women in particular saying they struggled financially.

“Keeping on top of finances and seeking appropriate advice before, during and after divorce can help to minimise some of the stress of the process. However, for some, there may yet be a silver lining, as our research suggests that, parting in later life can bring increased happiness, new interests and maybe even another chance at love.”

Notes to Editors

Research was conducted by OnePoll amongst 237 UK adults who got divorced age 50+ or who are going through a divorce aged 50+. The research was carried out between 20/04/2016 – 29/04/2016.

About Nationwide

Nationwide is the world's largest building society as well as one of the largest savings providers and a top-three provider of mortgages in the UK. It is also a major provider of current accounts, credit cards, ISAs and personal loans. Nationwide has around 15 million customers.

Customers can manage their finances in a branch, via the mobile app, on the telephone, internet and post. The Society has around 18,000 employees. Nationwide's head office is in Swindon with administration centres based in Northampton, Bournemouth and Dunfermline. The Society also has a number of call centres across the UK.

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