Patricia and Martin had their retirement unfolding just as they had planned it. They had a unit in the city which was ideal for when they wanted to see their children and grandchildren and they had a beach house where they would spend a large part of their time. They had been travelling with other retirees and ticking off some must-do’s they had retired life. It was blissful.
However, when work had been taken out of the equation and the routine of life had markedly changed for the long-term, the bliss was only short-lived for Patricia and Martin. They had worked hard all their lives and this time was to be their reward. But, the bliss had evaporated.
In our work as Family Lawyers, we see people seeking advice about separation and divorce in their retirement years because one or both people in the relationship have come to a realisation that they no longer wish to spend their retirement years with the other person. It can come as a big surprise, not only to the person on the receiving end of the news, but often the instigator as well.
Marriages that end during retirement years happen for a range of reasons. It may be that a couple simply grew apart, it could be the thought ‘If I only have 20 years left, I don’t wish to stay in a loveless relationship any longer’, or it may come only at this point because the relationship worked while they each had their obligations and routines and then suddenly find themselves spending a lot of time together they realise they no longer want to be together.
In these instances from my experience, where people were married in their 20’s and have been married for 30 or 40 years, tasks within the relationship were often allocated differently to how they are today. Because of this we often see women coming out of these long relationships who have very little understanding of their collective finances – because it has been managed or controlled by the man in the relationship. We need to provide women in these situations with a significant level of support. In addition to providing them legal advice we also need to assist them in finding them a new accountant, commercial lawyer and a financial planner because the advisers they had used in the past were been more closely involved with the man in the relationship.
A retirement plan is typically set up to provide sufficient income for two in the fashion in which they have become accustomed to – but it’s not enough to sustain them if they are separated and running two households. When separating or divorcing, suddenly both people often have to considerably cut their costs.
When a person finds themselves in this situation and are feeling financially vulnerable, it is essential to get professional advice. A consultation with a Family Lawyer and a Financial Planner are the most important first steps. A lawyer can provide an understanding of any entitlement (or a range of entitlements depending on the circumstances) but more importantly, a financial planner will give them an understanding that they will survive. That concern is a common fear we see people having – a real and genuine concern that typically stems from these two key wonderings:
How will I have enough funds to pay my rent/the mortgage/the expenses to maintain this home?; and/or
Will I be able to be the parent or grandparent that I wanted to be?
The first concern is self-explanatory. The second relates to the a level of generosity that has been maintained up until now. This may be in terms of time or money such as the funding of school fees and there are concerns about what impact this will have on their relationship with their children and grandchildren.
The Emotional Toll
Depending on the circumstances of the separation, sometimes the adult children of that relationship feel a need to support one parent over another, occasionally at the expense of their relationship with the other parent. As people go through separation, there is a lot to deal with emotionally and so how the instigator chooses to communicate their wishes, and communicate an intention to separate or divorce to the children can affect the relationship going forward.
Also, often for people in this situation there is a social stigma attached to separation and divorce. Sometimes people question their self-worth because of the change experienced from their role within that relationship to a life without that relationship. Some feel as though they are exhausting their friends with their troubles.
It is for all of these reasons, we also encourage people to engage with a counsellor.
What is imperative is that each separation and divorce is uniquely different which is why people who seek advice from a Family Lawyer early in the piece are largely better off. In retirement, pre-separation or very early advice is particularly crucial. Unlike a divorce in earlier years, the opportunity to re-grow the asset pool is usually at an end.
So many times people come to us having already made decisions that they are unaware are in fact, to their detriment. Often that includes leaving the family home because they feel it’s the right thing to do or, the thought of staying in the matrimonial home feels too distressing.
For some, they seek advice looking to determine if a separation is financially feasible for them. That is, to determine if they can both live the lifestyle they had before, but separately. For others, it’s about getting advice really early in the piece so they can get a picture of what their future life will look like.
If I could give only one piece of advice, it would be:
Don’t make decisions from an uninformed basis.
If past clients have regrets about how their separation unfolded, it often relates back to wishing they had sought professional assistance earlier – to help them in effective communication of their wishes, how to cope with the change in their life and from a legal perspective, in particular what they should or shouldn’t agree to.
Given that 1 in 3 marriages in Australia today ends in divorce, there are plenty of people who will share their experience and give care and support to someone who is going through what they have. However it is imperative that advice from well-meaning friends should not be relied upon, as it can have a major and detrimental impact on that person’s future.
Seeking professional advice is essential however selecting specialist Family Lawyers is key. The person who has been your go-to for all things legal in the past is not the person to give you specialist advice about your separation and divorce. Your future is dependent on how the separation and divorce in your retirement years unfolds.It’s best to choose the best person for the job from the beginning.
If you or someone you know is facing separation or divorce in their retirement years, share this article with them so they can be aware of these considerations. Phillips Family Law is an award winning Family Law practice serving clients across Australia and abroad. Regardless of where you are in your decision making process, we can make you aware of your options. To discuss your situation confidentially phone +61730079898 or secure a time by clicking here.
Disclaimer: The content in this article provides general information however it does not substitute legal advice or opinion. Information is best used in conjunction with legal advice from an experienced member of our team.