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Till turning 60 do us part - divorce in later life

Divorce among the over-60s is at records levels.

The latest figures show that the overall divorce rate across all age groups fell by 11% between 2007 and 2009.

However, the figure for the over-60s rose by 4.2% to 11,507 over the same period.

There are probably several reasons for this.

People are living longer, more active lives. Many couples find they have grown apart by the time they get to their sixties. Once their children have left home they find there is little left to bind them together and they decide to separate while they still have time to start again and seek new experiences.

It's always sad to see a marriage come to an end but it seems particularly so when a couple have been together for 30 or 40 years.

Older people face the same general issues that confront all couples involved in a divorce, although some problems will be more relevant than others.

Their children have probably grown up and flown the nest so there should be no concerns about contact arrangements etc. On the other hand, they may have to pay extra attention to issues such as inheritance and tax planning.

It's likely that before the divorce, the couple's wealth, including the house, was owned jointly by both partners. When one died, the estate would pass to the other without any inheritance tax issues.

Once they divorce, however, that automatic exemption no longer applies and so they may have to look closely at arrangements to protect their estate as much as possible.

Wills are an important issue for all divorcing couples but especially so for the elderly. If they already have a will in place, it's likely that they will have left all or most of their estate to their partner. Do they still want that to happen once they divorce? Who do they want to benefit if not their former spouse?

They will need to draw up a new will to reflect their changing circumstances.

The couple will also have to reach a financial settlement. Generally speaking, assets will have to be divided equally.

All the couple's assets, including pensions, are taken into account when assessing the matrimonial pot. This can sometimes be complicated, especially when it involves pensions that may not become active until a few years down the line. Nevertheless, everything has to be calculated and taken into consideration before arriving at a final settlement.

Looking to the future, many couples may intend to marry again. If so, they are increasingly likely to consider drawing up pre-nuptial agreements with their new spouse.

Pre-nups used to be considered unreliable but they have gained popularity following recent high profile cases in which the courts ruled that they should be enforced unless they were clearly unfair.

As more of the baby boomer generation enter their 60s, it's likely that the divorce rate for this age group will continue to rise, especially as the social stigma of separation is diminishing rapidly.

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