By Robyn A. Friedman
City & Shore PRIME
Thinking about getting married? If you’re over 50 and considering making your relationship permanent, there’s plenty to consider. Whether this is your first marriage, or you’re saying “I do” for the second or third time, the issues those over 50 face are vastly different from those of younger lovebirds.
“You’re bringing baggage into the relationship,” says Mari Adam, a certified financial planner in Boca Raton. “You may have already had a divorce or been widowed and usually have kids. And money is a big bone of contention.”
Unlike 20-somethings who decide to tie the knot, older couples have assets and homes and jobs and children. They have furniture and other possessions and full lives and tend to be less willing to compromise and change.
“People are worried about their retirement money, their health issues and their sex life,” says Tammy B. Saltzman, a family law attorney in Boca Raton. “There’s sexual dysfunction, financial issues and dysfunctional children from prior relationships.”
The difficulty of integrating two full lives is one reason why so-called “gray divorce” is on the rise at a time when divorce is becoming less common for younger adults. According to the Pew Research Center, among U.S. adults ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has roughly doubled since the 1990s, and for those 65 and older, the divorce rate has roughly tripled since 1990.
“The three main reasons people get divorced in general are sex, money and in-laws,” Saltzman says. “When you get to second marriages, it changes to sex, money and kids from your first marriage. You’re dealing with different issues and different relationships that have already been established prior to your relationship happening, and if one of those things is out of sync, then you’re likely to get a divorce.”
Perhaps that’s why Pew reports that the number of U.S. adults in cohabiting relationships (read: living together) is up 29 percent overall since 2007 – but the number of cohabiting adults ages 50 and older grew by a whopping 75 percent. And, as experts will tell you, living together, rather than getting married, can be less complicated over age 50 and avoid negative financial implications for those on Social Security or receiving pensions.
“The biggest problem we see is unequal circumstances where somebody is better off,” Adam says. “I hear women complaining that their significant others don’t work, and they’re paying too much.”
Kids are another potential issue. One party may object to the other giving what they feel is too much money to children, and inheritance issues need to be discussed. “These are issues that can be worked out, but you really need to have time to work them out,” Adam says.
Whether you’re marrying for love, financial security or to make sure there’s someone to take care of you when you’re older or ill, experts suggest that those over 50 take the following steps to help increase the odds of a long and happy marriage.
Take your time. Don’t rush into anything. That means avoiding an impulsive trip to Las Vegas to tie the knot. Adam says that many older people date for many years and then live together so remarriage tends to be a very drawn-out process with, hopefully, more thought put into it than for a first marriage. Time allows both parties to avoid potentially contentious issues involving money, assets and family.
Linda Wolonick has been together with her husband, Bob Nunemaker, for 17 years – but married for only the past two. When they first met, she had a teen-aged daughter, and he was providing a home and care for his mother. So, they dated and then lived together until his mom passed away and Bob sold his house. And then the issues – although minor – began.
“He started bringing stuff over,” Wolonick says. “I had my own home, and it’s fully furnished to my liking, but not so much to his.”
Nunemaker has an “enormous” vinyl record, CD and DVD collection, Wolonick says. He ended up putting it all in her daughter’s former bedroom, where it’s out of sight. “He’s so attached to his stuff, so he can sit in his office and look at it,” she says. “But I don’t want to look at it in my living room.”
In July, the couple will be moving to Ponte Vedra Beach, into a house with three bedrooms and a flex room, and they’re currently “negotiating,” as Wolonick puts it, where Nunemaker’s extensive media collection will go.
Disclose and Discuss. Be honest about your financial situation, credit score, debts and budget. Bring up the tough issues – who pays what household expenses, how much money do the kids get, who inherits your assets – upfront and resolve these issues before they arise. That will help avoid conflict in the future.
Get professional advice. Sit down with a family law attorney, an estate planning attorney and a financial advisor to discuss how you should plan for and manage your financial situation after you get married in order to protect all parties and to ensure that your intentions are carried out. Update your estate plan, if necessary, and include a healthcare power of attorney and living will.
Enter into a prenuptial agreement. Despite the advisability of having a prenup, Adam says that most people don’t enter into them. But experts say that’s a mistake. “I recommend them for everybody,” Saltzman says. “It’s a lot cleaner to do at the beginning than to wait until you are divorcing.” Remember that it’s not bad manners to ask for a prenup; it’s a wise financial strategy to protect yourself, your family and your assets.
Do some due diligence. Scams are common, particularly on dating websites. Before you bring someone into your life and your home, know who they are. Check them out in public records – you’d be surprised how much you can learn that’s publicly available. Ask for a copy of their credit report and ensure that their credit score is acceptable and that they’re not in debt. For parties with unequal assets, some experts even advise having a background investigation done to protect yourself. Is this romantic? No. But in today’s world, everyone needs to protect themselves.
Consider not getting married. You can enter into a long-term, committed relationship without getting married. And, for many people, this may be the best approach. You can keep assets separate, spend money without oversight and ensure your estate plan is carried out without complications. Remarriage also has implications for those receiving Social Security benefits, pensions and possibly alimony, so staying single might be a better financial strategy. Some couples have weddings or commitment ceremonies without the marriage license or get married in a religious ceremony without making it legal under state law. Consider entering into a cohabitation agreement if you plan to live together to work out housing expenses and other issues that might arise.
But whether you plan to get married, it’s important to find happiness on your own. “You have to find your own happiness being alone before you can share with someone else,” Saltzman says. “A lot of people think they can’t be happy unless they’re with someone, but that puts a lot of pressure on another human being. They can’t be responsible for your happiness.”