On any given day you can walk into the law office of William D. Slicker, P.A., 4554 Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, and see one or more seniors, from young Baby Boomers in their early 50s, to those in their 60s or 70s, waiting for professional law help by this local attorney. Given the fact that Slicker is an elder law attorney this makes a lot of sense. Many come for his legal advice on wills and trusts, estate planning, probate, powers of attorney and other issues commonly facing seniors. But not all of these individuals are there for these services. They are there because they need Slicker’s help in getting a divorce.
According to a recent research study done by Bowling Green State University in Ohio, the divorce rate among Baby Boomers, those 46 to 64 years of age, has jumped by more than 50 percent over the last two decades. To put this into perspective, back in 1970, the number of people divorced in this same age range was only 13 percent. And for Slicker, the seniors he counsels at times are even older. He gets them well into their 70s telling him “they have had enough” of living with their spouses after decades together and want out for various reasons.
This phenomenal surge in marriage break-ups for those 50-plus, sometimes referred to as “Gray Divorce,” may seem a bit odd. But it becomes even more strange when you consider this: The Bowling Green State study found in analyzing recently release U.S. Census data overall divorce rates have actually stabilized in this country. It’s only among our older population where rates have really spiked upward.
Slicker says by the time an older man or woman walks through his door seeking a divorce the individual “has made up their mind.” Reasons he gets for an older client wanting a divorce can be often the same as a younger person seeking his assistance. For example, he says certainly infidelity can play a role, but many times it is due to debt or domestic abuse, physically or verbally.
Other factors behind older people getting a divorce include disagreement on how the couple’s money is being spent. This can be anything from a man spending the couple’s money to go to strip clubs to either of them overspending on their credit cards, Slicker says.
Addictions to drugs, alcohol or gambling are common he said, as well as a spouse’s mental health. An individual coming to him because his or her partner is bipolar is another common reason he sees for a senior seeking a divorce.
A different kind of practitioner who sees seniors on a regular basis on the verge of a divorce is Monica Burton, a licensed marriage and family counselor, with a practice on St. Petersburg Beach. A significant number of her clients, due to her location like Slicker’s, are residents in south St. Petersburg, Gulfport, South Pasadena and nearby beach communities. Burton cited other reasons for why local seniors like older people across the country are calling it quits when it comes to their marriages.
She says among the older individuals and couples she sees in her practice many of them “are just reporting they are unhappy. I think some of its has to do with the fact that people are now living longer and they are evaluating their lives.”
She explained further, “They are looking at questions like: ‘Did I accomplish my goals? Do I have a bucket list?’ And then asking themselves: ‘How does my spouse fit with my hopes and dreams? Is he or she willing to support what I want to do?’”
An individual who is an excellent example of this type of unhappiness, which led to divorce, is 53-year-old Sally Marvin, supervisor of the nationally accredited and popular with seniors Sunshine Center in St. Petersburg. She said what provoked her breakup was she was eager to experience “more adventure” in life, while her husband was looking to keep the status quo. That status quo for Sally was just too dull of a life. Looking back she says, “It was truly the right decision for me and also for him.”
Marriage Therapist Burton said she believes older couples are also calling it quits because they are "experiencing a lot of stress that they didn’t expect in their ‘Golden Years.’ Some people are facing a significant amount of financial stress. Their retirement might be gone. They have to move in with their children or having to go back to work. One factor that can lead to divorce is how couples handle external stress. When a couple doesn’t talk about or doesn’t know how to cope with external stress it then leads to marital discord.”
Good resources she says for older couples struggling in their marriage are books and advice by relationship expert Dr. John Gottman. Details can be found at: www.gottman.com. She also suggests couples read his latest book, “What Makes Love Last.” In the book Dr. Gottman focuses on actions couples can take to build better bridges of trust, which are important to maintaining a long-term relationship.
She further offered this piece of advice. “Seeking out a therapist before a couple decides to get a divorce is the key (to preventing one). Divorce is not as simple as signing paperwork, especially when you have been together for years. I have met with older individuals who sometimes regret that they didn’t try therapy before they got divorced.”
Regret or not, it appears one thing is for sure. Based on the latest studies more older people than ever are visiting lawyers like Will Slicker, with only one thing on their mind: I want a divorce.