The rise of the 'silver separators'

A rise in the numbers of so-called ‘silver separators’ is leaving women in their sixties facing a bleak financial future.

Divorce, particularly for older generations, used to be surrounded in stigma; however this stigma has largely disappeared over recent decades, leading to an increase in the phenomenon of ‘silver separators’ – people who divorce when they are in their sixties.

Life expectancy continues to rise and with this comes the potential prospect of facing many, many years in retirement, leading many older couples to re-think their relationship. Figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), show that in 2011 there were 9,439 divorces where the husband was aged over 60 – a huge increase of 73% compared to figures from 1991. The rate of divorce in women aged over 60 has soared by an incredible 81%.

Helen Relf, tax director at accountants Baker Tilley, said men were more likely to instigate divorce around the time of their retirement, leaving many financially ‘high and dry.’ She said: “We are seeing more people divorcing later in life and it has an impact on women in particular. Last week I had a client in his seventies who said he was going to leave his wife. Usually it is men divorcing women and when it comes to the rise in over sixties instigating divorce, often the men are drivers behind it.”

For many women, the problem proves to be a lack of pension savings. For many people born between 1946 and 1955 and now in their sixties; the majority of women stayed at home to raise the children, rather than working and saving up a pension pot.

The government is making efforts to close the financial gender gap with a flat-rate pension of £144 per week in 2016 although women are still lagging behind men in workplace and private pension savings.

Helen Relf said that the majority of women in their sixties had expected to live off their husband’s pension during retirement so divorce would mean serious financial problems: “Divorce [late in life] leaves women financially and emotionally insecure. The key issues for them are the fact that they have relied heavily on their husbands to look after them financially and have not had to deal with financial arrangements.

“They have not built up a pension because they have stayed at home to look after a family…when divorce happens in the forties there are often still children involved so the financial impact is less because the husband has to provide [for the children]. But with divorcing in your sixties women have less of a claim on income and they are less protected. They are left without pensions and without a means of earning income because by that stage it is difficult for them to get into the jobs market,” she added.

Helen Relf urges women to check that the details of their entitlement because, as is often in divorce: “they will get an allocation [of their husband’s income] and an entitlement to be maintained.”

It is also important that for divorcing women, it is not just how much of their husband’s pension that they will receive that matters, it’s how they will access it: “There are a number of ways to divide it but in some cases the wife cannot access to the fund until the husband accesses his [proportion],” said Helen Relf, adding that she had seen women in their sixties being forced to live with their very elderly parents because of a lack of access to pension funds.

The team at Dovetail Divorce includes independent financial advisors who specialise in helping divorcing couples reach solutions on the financial aspects of their divorce, including the breakdown of complex pension contracts and the fair division of any future pension income. If you would like further information or confidential advice on this or any other aspect of divorce, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on 0800 054 699 or



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