Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Legal matters to consider when getting a divorce.

As Neil Sedaka so poignantly sang, “Don’t take your love away from me, don’t you leave my heart in misery. If you go then I’ll be blue, ’cause breaking up is hard to do.”

Whether you are sweet 16 and it’s called “puppy love” or you are over 50 and just received your AARP card for the first time, breaking up is hard to do, at any age.

You can feel the searing pain through every pore in your body. And you truly believe that it will never go away, and unfortunately, for some people it never does. It leaves an indelible mark on their psyche from which they never seem to recover. The good news is that for most of us, as time goes on, our wounds heal and we are able to move on with our lives.

When I meet someone at my law office for an initial consultation, I reassure them that there is life after divorce, which is very different from receiving a diagnosis of a terminal illness. I try to impress upon them that, although they may never have anticipated that this would happen when they exchanged vows at the altar, they can go on to lead a very productive and happy life after divorce, and hopefully find love again.

[To read more of Lisa Helfend Meyer’s thought leadership click here]

However, with all that being said, for someone over the age of 50, divorce can be even more traumatic. First, although it may be superficial, it is hard to deny that our physical bodies are not what they were when we were younger. Having been with a partner for many years, you grew older together and didn’t necessarily see all the wrinkles and sagging body parts. Now that you are single and over the age of 50, you will hopefully start dating again, which can be terrifying. How will you look to a stranger that did not know you when you were younger? Will they compare you to the 20-something model on the front page of Sports Illustrated? Online dating is even more intimidating; there is no way to distill a lifetime of experiences and acquired tastes into a meaningful online profile, and it is demoralizing to see yourself reduced to vital statistics on paper.

Second, there are numerous financial and estate planning issues you’ll want to discuss with an experienced family law practitioner. You’ll need to become familiar with your marital estate. What are your marital assets and liabilities? What kind of insurance policies are in place and who are the beneficiaries? What restrictions are there to retirement plans and who are the beneficiaries of any IRAs? Are either you or your spouse retired, or planning to retire soon? What will your spouse’s income be upon retirement and how will that impact spousal support? What are your derivative rights to an employed spouse’s social security benefits? Will one of you keep the house? What are the tax ramifications if it is sold?

The professionals you and your spouse relied upon during the marriage may now have a conflict of interest. When I meet with clients who have come to the end of a long marriage, I help them navigate these murky waters.

Third, there are personal issues to consider such as the impact of your divorce on your grown children, both emotionally and financially. Even though your children may be grown, married and have children of their own, the thought of their parents’ divorcing can be a very traumatic event. How will the family holidays be handled?  What do you tell your grandchildren? It may be necessary to seek the assistance of a therapist to work through the issues either as a family, or individually. If you were previously accustomed to providing financial help to your adult children, your generosity may need to be sidelined, at least until you have greater clarity concerning your future financial situation.

It is critical that you educate yourself about these issues, rather than remaining in the dark. It may also be necessary for you to retain your own professionals, such as a CPA or estate planning attorney. The professionals you and your spouse relied upon during the marriage may now have a conflict of interest.  When I meet with clients who have come to the end of a long marriage, I help them navigate these murky waters. I guide them through the process and offer moral support to boot. After all, there is a silver lining to every dark cloud in life.

Instead of focusing on all the negatives, you have to embrace the new you with a positive and upbeat attitude. You want to convey a sense of confidence that you are a survivor and the best is yet to come. And you know what? It just might be true. You have the emotional resources to make it ring true.

Think of it this way – you have just been handed a second chance to follow your dreams. To rediscover the individual you were before you met your spouse and to meet the person you have become after surviving years of life’s ups and downs. You can explore the interests you were forced to cast off in favor of your marriage and family responsibilities, or the dreams you forgot about because you were too busy pleasing someone else. You can travel to that dream location that your partner always vetoed. You can join a Master’s swim team, take up quilting or become a master at yoga — or better yet, acro yoga.

[For more on Meyer, Olson, Lowy & Meyer’s approach to Family Law click here]

As for finding new love, there are millions of people over 50 in the same situation, who are looking for someone like you. Consider friends from your distant past, who knew you when you were young and may have a special place for you in their hearts.

Sure, breaking up is hard to do. But these days, when the rock n’ roll greats are 75 years old and still out there filling stadiums, and with social media offering ways for us to reach out to old friends, there has never been a better time to be over 50 and single. With the right planning, there is simply no limit to the ways in which you can pursue happiness, at any age.