Three years ago, when Carol Moffa divorced her husband after, she says, putting up with a lot of “crap” over the years, she was downright scared. Moffa, now 76, had been married 52 years, and the thought of having to start her life over was frightening.
“I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ ” recalls Moffa, who lived in Fredericksburg, Va., for decades working as an accountant, and now shares a studio on the Upper East Side with one of her two adult daughters. “I thought I was in it for the long haul.”
Divorce isn’t just for middle age anymore. Studies show that “gray divorce” — marital splits among senior and nearly senior citizens — is increasingly common. According to a Pew Research Center report from March of this year, the divorce rate for married people in the US age 50 and older is now about double what it was in the 1990s. And, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics and US Census Bureau, the divorce rate for those 65 and older tripled from 1990 to 2015. Experts say the trend makes sense. When seniors divorce, it tends to be less acrimonious, and, with people living longer, they don’t want to spend their retirement years in an unhappy union.
“It’s certainly easier when there are no kids or custody issues involved. It’s like, ‘We raised our kids, made our money, we want to be happy now,’” says Alyssa Eisner, a matrimonial lawyer who has been practicing for 17 years and is based in Forest Hills.
“Sometimes they lived solely for the kid or other spouse and think, ‘It’s my turn now.’ Sixty or 70 isn’t old nowadays.”
“They look at each other and say, ‘I have more good years. Why should I spend it with someone I don’t love or even like?’” adds Rachel Sussman, a relationship specialist in Union Square. “Retirement doesn’t feel like the end, it feels like the beginning. If you have a partner who doesn’t want to share that with you, why would you stay?”
That’s the attitude Geraldine Biordi, 62, took when her husband of 21 years asked for a divorce. While she was blindsided by his request, she ultimately found it liberating. “In your 60s, you realize life is finite,” says Biordi, whose divorce was finalized in March. “It doesn’t go on forever: You start to question, what do I want with the rest of my life?”
It was the second divorce for Biordi, who split with her first husband in her 20s when she had a young daughter. This time was less difficult, she says. “This one is much easier, even though this marriage was so much longer,” says the Douglaston, Queens, resident who owns her own real estate company. “The only way to survive divorce is to realize you’re the only person who can make yourself happy. You cannot rely on another person in this life to account for your happiness.”
But divorce is still divorce, and splitting up after decades has its own set of complications. “All of a sudden, you’re in a 4,000-square-foot house by yourself, the AC isn’t working, and for 20 years you’ve relied on this guy to take care of it,” says Biordi. “It’s a big adjustment.”
Moffa regrets not leaving her husband earlier. “If you’re in your 50s, you have more time to get your bearings — you’d be able to handle your money how you want to. But in your 70s, it’s scary — I have to watch everything I do [financially],” she says. “I might have had a chance to meet someone. Face facts: I’m 76. There’s nothing around that appeals to me.”
And divorcing later in life doesn’t always make it any less messy. One of Moffa’s daughters isn’t speaking to her mother’s ex-husband, for reasons she won’t get into. And scandalous, high-profile gray divorces have made headlines of late. Page Six exclusively reported that, last July after 58 years of marriage, Linda Macklowe, 79, filed for divorce from her billionaire real estate developer hubby, Harry Macklowe, also 79, upon learning he was housing his French mistress in an apartment less than a mile from their home in the Plaza hotel. And, in May, Page Six also reported that 88-year-old Pantone honcho Larry Herbert “devastated” his wife of 30 years, Michele Herbert, 68, when he suddenly told her he wanted a divorce.
No matter what your tax bracket is, for seniors who are contemplating divorce, there’s a lot to consider — like financial stability and finding companionship at this stage in life.
“If you’re mid- or late 60s, these people may think they may not get another shot,” says Sussman, who tells her clients that there are still opportunities for finding love. “I remind them there are other people out there getting divorced or widowers.” The expert also warns couples against impetuously throwing in the towel. “If you’re in your 60s and want to end your marriage, I would always say go to counseling first. If you can’t fix something, at least you’ve tried.”
For those who find that divorce is the best option, Biordi has words of encouragement.
“You have to keep going,” she says. “You are stronger than you think you are. You can do it — at any age.”
Source: New York Post