Last month, to celebrate Valentines Day, I went to two programs on divorce. In the morning the topic was Gray Divorce sponsored by the Family and Divorce Mediation Council of greater NYC. In the afternoon, a book launch for a workbook about prenuptial agreements. These programs kept me out of my office but were well worth my while.
Late life divorce sometimes referred to as Gray divorce is on the rise. Since 2010, divorce for people in this age range has more than doubled. It makes sense, people are living longer, women have more financial independence and there is less stigma attached to divorce. Gray divorces have unique challenges around the emotions, financial needs and sometimes health of the couples involved. They require highly creative solutions and the program attendees spent some time brain storming around difficult hypothetical scenarios.
Older couples are winding down the opportunity to actively earn income, making the possibility of bouncing back from the financial impact of divorce more difficult. Questions about cash flow, evaluating the utility of the marital home, determining the availability of family resources and calling on experts such as elder care attorneys were some of the options we discussed. The solutions offered for these difficult problems revealed the mediators in the room to be compassionate and possess a positive energy that is laudable in the face of these challenges.
The afternoon took me to discussions concerning the other end of the marriage spectrum, prenups. These are agreements in the contemplation of marriage. My colleague, Deborah Hope Wayne has written Prenups and the Elephant in the Room: A Handbook for the Prenup Process. It is meant to be a guide for soon to be newlyweds to discuss how they foresee their property and finances will look during marriage and in the event of divorce and death. In the book, Deb shares her perspective that instead of viewing prenups as a plan for divorce, they can provide couples with a way to build trust through frank and open discussion. Surrounded by colleagues and law students, the focus of the discussion was on education, problem solving and reframing negative impressions that can sometimes keep people from communicating about difficult topics.
Young or old, divorce presents challenges. A common thread of my Valentine’s Day of learning is that mediation is a process that invites communication and creative problem solving. Presentations and publications by colleagues as well as my own research and experience continue to challenge me and enhance the options I offer my clients, whatever the particular challenges they face.