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    October 18, 2023
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    Steven A. Hemmat

What Seniors Need to Know Before Filing For a Divorce in Seattle

When seniors go through the divorce process in Washington State, there are special aspects to consider, such as Social Security and retirement accounts.

Marriages can end for any number of reasons. Spouses may grow apart, or the couple may find themselves having different priorities and goals for their lives. Conflicting views on financial matters can drive people apart, as can infidelity. Some marriages end only a few months after the wedding, while others endure for decades before they fall apart. In recent years, research has found that there is an uptick in so-called “gray divorces,” or divorces among people over the age of fifty. According to the most recent estimates, over a third of people who are getting divorced are over the age of fifty. People tend to live longer, and many couples who have been married for a decade or more are starting to ask themselves whether they want to live out their remaining years next to their current spouse. Even individuals in their eighties “feel like any years of life they have left are too precious to spend with the wrong person.” Although every divorce follows a similar legal process, there are a few specific considerations to address when older couples seek to end their marriage. Spousal support agreements, retirement benefits, residential matters, and Social Security issues often require nuanced and careful attention as the parties untangle their lives from one another. Working with a knowledgeable and compassionate Seattle divorce lawyer who understands the unique challenges and needs of aging individuals is the best way to ensure that you enjoy a solid and secure foundation for your life’s next chapter. Let’s take a look at how gray divorces may differ from more traditional divorces and how enlisting the guidance of a seasoned and trusted divorce attorney can help you achieve your goals.

A Brief Overview of Divorce in Washington State

First, it’s helpful to understand how Washington State handles divorce and legal separation matters, regardless of the ages of the parties. Washington is considered a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that a spouse does not need to cite a specific reason in order to end the marriage. Instead, they must state only that their differences are irreconcilable and beyond repair. Either party may initiate the divorce process by locating and completing a Petition for Divorce (Dissolution) form and filing it with your local court. Next, you can have a copy of the petition served on the non-filing spouse, informing them of your intention to seek a divorce. However, it’s important to recognize that Washington imposes a mandatory 90-day waiting period until the court finalizes the divorce.

Spouses that have agreed to part ways on relatively amicable terms may negotiate the terms of their divorce, such as the division of property and assets, establishing a parenting plan, or discussing spousal maintenance. If the divorce is uncontested, meaning that the parties are able to agree to the terms of the divorce, the court will review the terms and finalize the divorce after the 90-day window has concluded. Contested divorces may require more time to determine the terms of the divorce, with some couples needing to take the matter to litigation in order to establish a resolution. No matter what the path to your divorce looks like, relying on the support and guidance of a trusted and empathetic Seattle divorce lawyer is the best way to move forward with confidence.

Special Considerations for Older Divorcing Couples in Seattle

People over the age of fifty have had more time to acquire marital property, especially if their marriage has lasted longer than a decade. Additionally, aging individuals may have developed health concerns or other challenges unique to their age group that need to be considered during the divorce process. While the broad strokes of the divorce process are the same for couples of any age, there are some topics and considerations that should be addressed as you move forward with your gray divorce. Your attorney can help you identify and work through the following issues to ensure that you achieve your divorce goals and lay a solid foundation for what lies in store for you after the divorce is finalized.

Social Security Benefits

Someone over the age of 62 who divorces their spouse after ten or more years may be entitled to collect retirement benefits through their ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits. This may be done without impacting or reducing the ex-spouse’s benefits. Additionally, former spouses may be entitled to receive Social Security survivor benefits once their ex-spouse passes away. Social Security matters tend to be complex and challenging to navigate, so it’s best to consult with your knowledgeable Seattle divorce lawyer to better understand how these benefits could apply to your situation.

Financial Implications

It’s no surprise that divorce can wreak havoc on the financial situations of both parties. Older individuals who have been married for several decades have had ample time to accumulate a substantial amount of marital assets (and, for some, outstanding debt obligations). Sorting through the sheer volume of financial records, retirement benefits, stock portfolios, bank accounts, and other assets requires considerable time and keen attention to detail. What’s more, once the parties have established a list of all marital and separate assets, discussions about how to divide these assets can become tense and difficult—even for spouses who are parting ways on amicable terms. It’s natural for older individuals to voice their concerns about the daunting living expenses facing them after the marriage ends; some estimates state that retiring can be anywhere between 30 to 50 percent more expensive for divorced senior citizens than their married counterparts. Your empathetic attorney will work with you to ensure that you secure the financial support you need as you begin the next phase of your life.

Spousal Support Considerations

Spousal support, also known as spousal maintenance in Washington State, can be incredibly challenging to address and determine during the divorce process. These matters can be particularly difficult in instances where one spouse earned the bulk of the income during the marriage, while the other spouse did not pursue a career in order to raise the children and maintain the home. Once the marriage ends, the spouse who did not earn an income needs financial support to ease the transition to an independent way of life.

For younger divorcing couples, the lower-earning spouse may receive spousal maintenance as they attend courses or develop skills to reenter the workforce and find gainful employment; once they find a stable job, the court may deem it necessary to terminate spousal maintenance. However, senior citizens face fewer employment opportunities, so the terms of spousal maintenance often require a more nuanced assessment. Whether you are the primary breadwinner or you have sacrificed your career to raise your family, working with a dedicated and caring Seattle divorce attorney can empower you to move forward with greater clarity and confidence.

Long-Term Planning

As you walk away from your marriage, it’s natural to feel anxious about the years ahead. As an older individual, you need to think about your health and how you envision yourself living out your remaining years. Retirement communities and nursing homes can be expensive, and you and your ex-spouse may have trouble deciding who gets to continue living in your marital residence. These matters and conversations can be emotionally challenging to navigate, so give yourself the support and compassion you need to express your needs, concerns, and goals. Additionally, many couples over the age of fifty have already put an estate plan in place. As you move forward with your divorce, it’s essential that you revisit these documents and amend them to reflect the changes associated with your newly single life. You can enlist the guidance and support of your attorney to ensure that you address every detail along the way.

Emotional Considerations

Although all of the considerations mentioned above explore the practical matters of gray divorce, it’s essential to recognize the emotional aspects of this significant life event. No one expects you to move through this process with poise and grace at all times; it’s completely natural to mourn the end of your relationship and worry about your future stability and happiness. Many newly independent individuals feel isolated on their own, especially after spending years of their lives with their partner. Adult children and grandchildren can be a powerful source of support during this tumultuous time, as can reliable and compassionate friends and extended family members. Remember, you are never alone during this transition, and there are people out there who care about your happiness and well-being.

Moving Toward a Brighter Future

Whether your marriage is ending after a few months or you are seeking a divorce after decades of marriage, the caring and supportive legal team at the Hemmat Law Group is here to address your concerns, answer your questions, and empower you to move forward. We believe in listening closely to your goals so we can identify the most strategic path forward to ensure that you secure the stable foundation you need to grow and thrive. We encourage you to contact our office today to learn more.

The dedicated and caring divorce attorneys at the Hemmat Law Group are ready to support you as you navigate each step of the divorce process. Call our Seattle office today at (206) 682-5200 to get started.

We Help Good People in Bad Situations

The Hemmat Law Group (HLG) was founded in 1994 by Steven Amir Hemmat, a former DOJ Trial Attorney. We specialize in family law, supporting victims of the legal system.

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Article by Steven A. Hemmat
Founder, CEO