Divorce goes grey

“I think some of the issues like vying for affection play out with grandchildren as well,” Bolton adds.

Couples who’ve been married a long time also find their divorce has an impact on extended families. Often, deep attachments have developed over the decades. And while some manage to keep those relationships alive, bitterness or divided loyalties make it impossible for others. “The whole in-law thing, that’s all gone,” says Bunce Desmeules, whose 34-year kinship with one of her ex-husband’s relatives was completely cut off. “That disappointed me.” It’s salt in the wound for women and men who are already reeling from the loss of a spouse.

Mourning the loss

There’s no question that late-life breakups provoke a myriad of feelings: grief, shock, loneliness, depression, shame, anger, fear. Even the spouse who initiates the split may mourn the relationship or feel betrayed by the other’s behaviour. “It was the loss of common memories I found hardest,” remembers Martin, who felt a great sadness after she left her partner.

Both parties may fret about the future, which has suddenly morphed into a big question mark. “The older they are, the more they will voice concern, ‘What happens when I’m sick?’” says Lake. “There’s this fear of being alone at this stage of life where there may be health concerns.” And even if they seek remarriage (58 per cent of divorced women remarry, as do 70 per cent of divorced men), they face a shrinking selection of eligible singles. Many of the good ones are already taken.

Facing the financial future

Divorce at this age can also present significant financial challenges. Barbara Florio Graham’s husband split when they were both 59 years old. “He filed for divorce a month before our 30th wedding anniversary,” recalls the Gatineau, Que., woman. She describes herself at the time as “off guard, unaware and very unprepared.” She’d been left out of some household financial decisions and had been out of the workforce for decades.

“That’s true of many women in my age group. We are the ones who took our husband’s name, who put our careers on the back burner. I gave up a job to be the traditional stay-at-home wife.” After the divorce papers were signed, Florio Graham’s lifestyle quickly shifted from financially comfortable to financially squeezed.

“Women over the age of 50 may not have handled the family finances,” says Eva Sachs, a Toronto financial planner who specializes in divorce. “In many cases, they’ve never seen their own tax returns.” The shame they feel often spurs them to keep their heads in the sand, signing the first settlement sent their way instead of negotiating.

Sachs helps her female clients to understand their financial reality. She guides them in gathering important records, from bank statements and insurance policies to pension information – and then she helps them make heads and tails of it all. “Women walk in feeling so confused, not knowing where to turn. Then, armed with just a little bit of information, you can see they’re feeling better.”