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Late-life divorce: What causes it and how it affects your health

If you've been married and serving in the military for close to 20 years or more, you likely have a keen understanding of how challenging it can be to balance military service and family life. Perhaps, the stress of it all has taken a serious toll on your marriage and you have finally decided that seeking a late-life divorce is better than staying in an unhappy marriage. If so, you are definitely not alone in your struggle. 

Divorce at any age can have significant implications regarding your assets, investments, retirement plans and other financial issues -- late-life divorce even more so, according to current data. If you are age 55 or beyond, getting divorced at this stage in life can also affect your mental, physical or emotional health. You may be better able to cope if you have a strong support system in place. 

What are the most common causes of gray divorce?        

No two marriages -- and therefore, no two divorces -- are the same. If you discuss such topics with other military spouses, you may find that you relate to others' experiences. Many people who divorce after several decades of marriage say the following factors prompted their decisions:  

  • Infidelity: Young or old, it is never easy to restore a relationship that has endured an extramarital affair. 
  • Increased life expectancy: Baby boomers live longer than those who came before them. Many spouses say they grew apart from their partners with age.  
  • Multiple marriages: If your current spouse was not your first spouse, you're reportedly at greater risk for a late-life divorce, as those who divorce and remarry are more likely to divorce again than those who have only been married once.  

Your reasons for divorce may be similar or starkly different than those mentioned here. Regardless of the particular details of your situation, the process that you activate by petitioning the court for divorce may be less stressful if you act alongside experienced legal support. 

How might gray divorce affect your health? 

Active military service, especially when it's combat-oriented, can have severely negative consequences on your health. Navigating divorce late in life may add to your stress in the following ways:  

  • Feelings of loneliness or isolation: Even if you often fought with your spouse, you still had someone with whom to share your home. Older spouses who divorce often say they suffer severe loneliness bouts or depression because they were not prepared for how they'd feel spending so much time alone. 
  • Trouble sleeping: A gray divorce can severely disrupt your sleep patterns. After sleeping beside the same person for so many years, your body gets used to that other body being there and may have trouble resting when your spouse is no longer beside you.  
  • High-risk behavior implications: It's not uncommon to want to splurge on some new items or to want to feel a bit footloose and fancy-free after finalizing a late-life divorce. Such feelings often lead to risky behavior, however, including promiscuity, substance abuse, overeating or overspending.  

In addition to all the possible consequences of gray divorce that most civilians may experience, you may also encounter challenges specific to your military career, such as commissary benefit issues, retirement benefits issues and more. There are family law attorneys who have experience in handling military divorces that can provide guidance and strong support as you transition to a new lifestyle.

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