Divorce goes grey

Hear the Women Roar

Who’s idea is it, anyway? We’ve heard of men leaving longtime partners in pursuit of younger non-menopausal nymphs. That’s no old wives’ tale: it happens. But increasingly, these later-life divorces are led by women who want out.

What’s changed? Women are more economically independent now because they’re more likely to have experienced the workforce, says Mitchell. If they’re unhappy with their husbands, if he’s cheating or he’s drinking or he just won’t pick up his own socks, they’re walking away. “As women are becoming empowered, they don’t put up with that. In the past, women turned a blind eye to it because the costs were too great.”

“His behaviour, my decision. That sums it up,” says Barbara Bunce Desmeules of Montreal, Que., who asked her husband for a divorce when she was 54. “I knew what I wouldn’t stand for anymore.”

And after years of putting their family first, women are finally focusing on their own best interests. “Women have been answering to children and husbands for all of their adult life,” notes Gwen Martin of Yoho, N.B., who broke up with her common-law husband at 53. “There’s that small window of opportunity before your parents are really going to need you, when you are out on your own and you can really kick up your heels and do what you want, when you want and indulge in all those creative pursuits that you didn’t have a chance to do when you were answering to everyone else’s whims.”

That doesn’t mean these ex-wives aren’t stricken by conscience. “When you make this kind of a move, the guilt is horrific,” admits Lewis. “You’re leaving an older man to fend for himself.” And in a generation where traditional roles still sometimes rule, that may mean the husband is helpless in the kitchen or laundry room. It doesn’t stop there. Lake adds, “There’s also the guilt of hurting the adult children and hurting the grandchildren.”

The Effect on Family Hurting the children, really? Indeed, it turns out these couples who’ve toughed it out for the kids aren’t exactly shielding them by winding up the marriage later. Sure, there aren’t matters of child support, custody and step-parenting to struggle with when these parents finally separate. But adult children can still suffer a sense of loss after the family structure they’ve known all their lives has splintered. They may worry about their own young marriages – after all, if Mom and Dad couldn’t stick it out, what does that mean for them?

And although the parents won’t have to work out who gets the kids for summer vacation, there are other logistical sticking points. “There will be issues like what are we going to do at our children’s wedding?” says Anne Bolton, a family mediator in Winnipeg.

Bolton also points out that pulling kids into the middle of conflict can be just as damaging when those children are grown. Older divorced parents often open up about their problems and vent about their ex-spouses, forcing adult children to take sides.