Image copyright ALAMY
The number of people divorcing in later life has been increasing at a time when divorce rates overall have been falling. What’s behind the phenomenon of the “silver splitters”?
“When I proposed to her, I virtually straight away regretted having done that.”
But the engagement was announced on the front page of his local paper and Peter felt he couldn’t back away. “I was weak-willed at the time, ” he says.
Peter married in 1967. Thirty-six years later, at the age of 64, he did back out.
“I merely bundled what I could into the car and ran. I do recollect her standing on the doorstep. And I did feel sorry – even guilty – then that I was hurting her, really.”
It’s the kind of private moment of pain that’s part of a national tendency.
Divorce among people
aged 60 and over in England and Wales has risen since the 1990 s, according to the Office of National Statistics – while among the rest of the population, it has fallen( with a slight rise in 2012 ).
In 2011, virtually 9,500 humen in this age group divorced – an increase of virtually three-quarters compared with 20 years earlier. The trend for women is similar. And it’s not just because there are more older people now.
Image copyright other Image caption Peter and Anne played the piano together
The catalyst for Peter was a relationship he started with his piano partner, Anne. Practising duos for the church choir, they fell in love.
“We are good friends, and that’s something I didn’t have with my first spouse, ” says Anne, who aimed her first wedding when she was in her 50 s. “And we are going to be able laugh when things go wrong.”
Research suggests a big driver of the increase in “silver splitters” is increasing life expectancy.
Find out more
Listen to the report on the PM programme, on Radio 4 at 17:00 on Tuesday 10 November 2015.
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And people want more from their retirement, according to attorney Karin Walker, of law firm KGW Family Law in Woking and the family statute association, Resolution.
“People are looking very much at the latter third of their life and what they want to do with it, ” she says.
“Certainly clients I’ve had say they want to take up a pastime they’ve not done before – perhaps cycling or travelling. And very often their spouse isn’t keen to participate in that, and that can cause friction and a parting of ways.”
Age gaps can set marriages under strain in later life, according to Barbara Bloomfield, a counsellor for Relate in Bristol and the counselling superintendent at Relate Cymru.
“Let’s say there’s a 10 -year age gap. Ten years is nothing, it’s flattering, when you’re 20 and 30. When you’re 70 and 80 it’s a totally different thing, ” she says.
Another factor is wealth. The baby boomers tend to have good pensions. Their property’s worth a lot. They can more afford to divorce in retirement than people used to be able to.
“From the point of view of spouses as well, where hitherto the wife genuinely couldn’t find herself in a position to leave home – those first 24 hours where she didn’t know where to bide, didn’t have any money to pay for a hotel – it all became rather daunting, ” says Walker, “whereas now girls are becoming more financially independent and are much better able to take control of their lives.”
Key points on divorce in England and Wales
More than 235,000 people divorced in 2011 The average age of people divorcing in 2011 was 44.5 yrs for men and 42.1 yrs for women Second marriages are more likely to be successful than first marriages. If one or both partners are remarrying they have a 31% chance of divorce, compared with 45% if it is both partners’ first time 34% of weddings are expected to end in divorce by the 20 th bridal anniversary( 6% of matrimonies aim by the 20 th wedding anniversary because one of the spouses has died)