How Seniors Can Handle Widowhood, Divorce and Remarriage Issues

As we age, we will naturally experience change in our significant relationships. Whether that is with a spouse, children, grandchildren, or friends, the fact that we are living longer means that there is more time for relationships to transform. Senior relationships are most affected by widowhood, divorce, and remarriage. At the time that any of these life-changing events occurs, a senior will need extra support from family, friends, and often counselors to help with the adjustment.


An AARP midlife divorce study reveals that:

66 percent of women say they asked for the divorce.

87 percent of men dated after the divorce.

67 percent of men and women said they made the right decision.

Important also are the financial arrangements that are made at the time seniors find themselves, or are about to find themselves, in a new relationship rank. Seniors need to be proactive in planning for what the new status means for their futures. An estate attorney and a financial planner are often involved at this stage and will help determine the best financial course of action in any of these situations. A therapist can address the emotional needs of the senior and other family members.

Each situation has its sticking points, and family members can complicate the issues with their individual emotional needs, opinions and financial concerns. Proper preparation by the senior and their families can ease the angst that comes with the change and provide a navigation tool to guide the family.

When a spouse dies, the other spouse experiences a painful period of bereavement, severe loneliness, restlessness, insomnia, and generally, poor mental, emotional, and physical well-being. A Laurea University of Applied Sciences 2009 Study revealed that loneliness is a significant issue for elderly widows, and is often the cause for the development of life- threatening illnesses and life-altering depression at higher rates than their married equivalents.

In addition to handling the loss of a spouse, widows and widowers are often faced with a reduced social and support network, decreased physical and cognitive functioning, the uncertainties of retirement, and the possibility that their adult children live far away. Eating well, exercising, and social interaction play key roles in a person’s well-being. A widow or widower is at risk for a lower level of well-being, so loved ones and professionals should monitor them closely. Interventions with therapists and physicians can help mitigate the effects that widowhood has on an individual and that may lead to depression.

Adult children are dealing with their own grief, but they can help their surviving parent by:

  • Attending to physical needs.
  • Listening to and encouraging the parent to talk about their lost spouse.
  • Making sure the parent gets the care he or she needs.
  • Allowing the parent to express his or her grief.
  • Remembering and acknowledging important dates and anniversaries.

Additionally, a loved one or professional needs to review the senior’s finances and overall estate, and family members should work with the proper professionals to formulate a plan for the future that is in the best interest of the widowed senior.

The best resources for widows and widowers are their doctors, a therapist, family, a support group, friends, an estate attorney, and a financial planner.

A recent trend for seniors is a rise in divorce rates. This video shows a CBS television interview with author Deirdre Bair who wrote the book Calling It Quits after interviewing numerous senior couples and their children. She found that men and women are not willing to stay in unhappy marriages now that life spans are expected to be longer. She also discovered that women are feeling more empowered to leave an unhappy marriage.

The lack of children in the home is another reason that more seniors may be getting divorced. Without the constraints of custody battles and child support, seniors are finding that divorce is a simpler process at this point in life.

Seniors are living longer and healthier lives. Those seniors who look to retirement as a time for personal growth and enjoyment, but whose spouses are not on the same lifestyle page, could consider divorce as a means to achieving their desired lifestyle.

A divorce may greatly affect a senior’s standard of living. The major considerations for seniors as they ponder divorce are:

  • Asset and debt valuation and allocation – mortgage-free homes, retirement plans, and life insurance
  • Estate planning – beneficiaries for the estate
  • Family issues – with adult children or other close family members
  • Future health issues – who will take care of the now single seniors as they face health issues

Financial advisors, family attorneys, divorce attorneys, mediators, and estate planners can help analyze and resolve the divorce circumstances.

Typically, when seniors remarry, adult children are part of the family picture. No matter how well liked the new step-mother or step-father is, questions as to what will happen to the family assets and heirlooms are the often focus of discussion. The happy couple has a lot to consider before walking down the aisle, including:

  • How to best protect their assets.
  • If they will combine current or future assets.
  • What retirement looks like.
  • Medicaid planning.
  • Inheritances for children and grandchildren.
  • How they will use money, pay bills, and save money on a daily basis.

The soon-to-be-married seniors can alleviate their adult children’s anxiety about the remarriage by remaining open about their planned financial set-up. An attorney can help work out wills, estate plans, and inheritances based on the seniors’ desires, and the attorney can even present the details of plans to the adult children. Often a third party can ease the tension of family finances and future money allocations.

Adult children have unique roles in each of these scenarios, and it may not be easy to watch a parent go through life-altering experiences. Adult children should try to become more informed about all of the options that a senior parent faces, and they should turn to professionals for advice. Many resources exist that can help each family member find peace of mind.