Divorce at 65 is 'scary, but also a relief,' Canadian woman says. What to know about 'grey divorce' & why it happens

Grey divorce, when people divorce over the age of 50, is becoming more common in Canada

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Grey divorces are on the rise, but what makes them especially difficult? Here's what you need to know about separating at an older age. (Getty)

Christine Dafoe never thought she'd leave her marriage of 41 years. She described her divorce as "scary, but also a relief."

At 65, it's daunting to start a new chapter but Dafoe was adamant about prioritizing herself and her happiness. "It was getting really toxic and controlling. There was emotional abuse going both ways, but he blamed me for everything," Dafoe said. "And so we separated."

Dafoe is one of many Canadians who are choosing to divorce later in life, in what's sometimes referred to as a "grey divorce."

Christine Dafoe, 65, is a resident of London Ont. and will soon be moving out of the house she and her ex-husband shared. She joined the Senior Women Living Together group to find other women she could connect with and potentially have as roommates in a few months. (Image provided by Christine Dafoe)
Christine Dafoe, 65, is a resident of London, Ont. and will soon be moving out of the house she and her ex-husband shared. She joined the Senior Women Living Together group to find other women she could connect with and potentially have as roommates in a few months. (Image provided by Christine Dafoe)

Grey divorce has become increasingly prevalent in many countries, including Canada. According to Statistics Canada, the average age of marriage in 2019 was 35 years old, meaning people were choosing to marry at a later age than decades ago. Similarly, more data shows that divorces are occurring at increasingly older ages. In 2020, the average age of divorce was 46 years old.

The agency said, the "rise of grey divorce in Canada, which coincided with the arrival of the baby-boom cohort into this age group, was however quite modest compared with the doubling of levels observed in the United States over a similar period."

Experts attribute this rise to reasons like decreased stigma on divorce and marrying later in life, adding that there are unique challenges for those who divorce at an older age.

For Dafoe, she continued to live with her ex-husband for more than a year, which she says was difficult. On top of that, there were the financial stressors that came with separation. But having the support of her family, who had "seen the signs" before she did, was reassuring.

Yahoo Canada spoke to experts to get insight into the rise of grey divorces and what someone might expect if they are divorcing at an older age. Here's what you need to know.

Why are people getting divorced later in life?

Shot of a mature woman looking upset with her husband in the background
According to Statistics Canada, the average age of divorce in 2020 was 46 years old. (Image via Getty)

Grey divorce refers to the phenomenon of divorce among couples over the age of 50. These divorces often occur after decades of marriage and can present unique challenges related to financial security, retirement planning, and emotional adjustment.

Though the rise of grey divorce can be attributed to factors such as longer life expectancies and changing attitudes towards marriage and divorce, Ravit Rose, a divorce coach and researcher based in Montreal, said sometimes it's as simple as not feeling a connection anymore.

She added because there is less stigma towards divorce — and people feel like it's more of an option now — people might very well want to try to be independent and leave arguments or disagreements behind.

"They start to realize that one has evolved much faster than the other one, and because they're not evolving at the same level, that disconnect causes them to want a divorce," Rose said.

Of course, she added that there are also a myriad of other reasons why people choose to separate.

What makes grey divorces so difficult?

Close-up of unrecognizable black woman removing ring from finger
Divorce can force individuals to reevaluate their sense of identity and purpose, especially if they have defined themselves primarily within the context of their marriage. (Image via Getty)

Rose is also the founder of the Irooze Divorce Community, where she and her team study the science of "nasty divorces" compared to "amicable divorces." After clients fill out an assessment, they are offered a consultation and referred to professionals who specialize in divorce.

For the women over 50 she has seen in the past six months, she said about half of them have no income and no separate savings account.

"When they're talking about getting divorced, their biggest worry is that they're not financially independent," said Rose. "They [say] things like 'I feel petrified, I'm uncomfortable, I'm sad, I'm angry.'"

After decades of marriage, finances are often deeply intertwined. Untangling assets, pensions, retirement accounts and property can be complex and may require the assistance of financial advisors or legal professionals.

Splitting assets can also have significant implications for each spouse's financial security in retirement. In 2018, Statistics Canada reported senior women aged 65 and over are more likely to live in low-income households than their male counterparts.

Rose said the women who reported in their self-assessment as feeling more optimistic about their divorces were those who may have been the main income earners or felt more financially independent.

Senior women having coffee in front of suburban home. Support networks become more important for senior women when they become single. (Getty)
Support networks become more important for senior women when they become single. (Getty)

Other challenges for those going through a grey divorce include rebuilding social networks and support systems, navigating adverse effects on physical and mental health and finding new living arrangements.

Dafoe, who sold her shared property with her ex-husband last November said she's now trying to find a new spot for this upcoming April. She found a group called Senior Women Living Together, where participants create a profile and try to find likely roommates.

Arrangements like these can relieve financial stress from separation while building new networks and friendships.

Dafoe said that although it can be scary, moving in with the ladies she has met in the group is something she’s looking forward to, adding that she feels comfortable enough and hopes everything will work out.

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