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Going through a 'gray divorce?' Read this first

In past generations, older couples with less-than-perfect marriages tended to soldier on together regardless of the level of dissatisfaction the spouses felt toward their respective partners. But while overall divorce rates in the United States are dropping, for those 50 and older, there is an uptick in divorce.

A divorce over the age of 50 can be harder to rebound from financially, as couples in this age bracket have fewer working years left to recoup any losses and build up their retirement pensions. In these situations, it is frequently the women who take the harder hits. Even if the woman in a so-called "gray divorce" worked throughout the marriage, chances are good that she earned a great deal less than her husband over many of those years.

Then, too, women tend to live a few years longer than their male counterparts, meaning that they may need more money over longer periods in order to sustain themselves financially in their golden years.

Lead with your head, not your heart

One certified divorce financial analyst says she sees women attempt to commit "financial suicide" when they try to rush through their divorces. While divorce can be traumatizing to endure over extended months or even years, she says, "You can't let emotions rule in this place. You have to have a saner head counsel you, or you have to come to grips where divorce is really about the money."

To that end, keep these tips in mind from industry professionals to avoid walking away from your marriage strapped for cash:

  • Get the financial records. Hiding, or attempting to diminish, assets is common. You should give your Houston family law attorney at least the past three years' worth of tax returns. Couples with significant assets may opt to hire forensic accountants to uncover all marital assets.
  • Gather evidence. Before filing for divorce, walk through your house videoing its contents on your smartphone. Anything of value should be recorded in case it later "disappears." Copy the hard drive of the computer, as well as any financial statements.
  • Know your spouse's work history. In a marriage of long duration, it's easy to forget a job worked for only a couple of years 30 years ago. But there could still be 401(k) benefits from that job that are available to halve.
  • Plan for your future. You may be tempted to trade lucrative financial assets for the family home. It's comfortable and represents "home." But that may be a very unwise decision, as real estate markets can change dramatically with time. There are other problems with keeping the home, such as being able to afford its upkeep and taxes as you get older.
  • Take out a life insurance policy if you receive alimony. Spousal support can provide a financial cushion for many women. But if your ex dies or is incapacitated by illness or injury, his limited earning power can make the payments no longer feasible. Taking out a life insurance policy with you as beneficiary and paying the premiums yourself allows you financial freedom regardless of your ex's life trajectory.
  • Get a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. (QDRO) When it comes to accessing an ex's retirement benefits, a divorce judgment is insufficient. Make sure that your attorney files a QDRO with the court.
  • Be aware of tax implications. Splitting taxable brokerage accounts can incur hefty capital gains, so plan ahead for which assets you decide to seek.

By protecting yourself with these tips, you can walk away from an unhappy marriage with the financial freedom to begin your new life unfettered.

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