Rise of the Saga divorce
November 12, 2007 2 comments
It seems that the increased divorce rate amongst over-50s is a hot topic right now. Following my appearance in The Times at the beginning of this month, the Daily Mail has interviewed me for its own story on the subject. It was published on Friday 9 November.
Their children have grown up. Their mortgage is paid off. And they are looking forward to a long and happy retirement – apart.
This is increasingly the experience of Britain’s over-50s, with the number of divorced couples in that age group rising relentlessly despite the overall divorce rate dropping to its lowest level for nearly three decades.
Last year in England and Wales 54,034 over-50s divorced, compared with 47,763 in 2001.
The latest figures show that there are more than two million divorced people in the 50-plus age bracket.
In a phenomenon known as “Saga divorce”, experts believe couples who have stayed together for the sake of their children reassess their own futures when their offspring have flown the nest.
Rising numbers want a new start and feel the stigma attached to divorce has diminished.
Christine Northam, of Relate, said: “Very often people will have hung on in there because of the kids and once they have grown up they realise there isn’t the closeness between them.
“Because life expectancy is improving all the time, they think why shouldn’t they be happy, they have got 20 or 30 years left.
“It is a very brave leap, it is almost easier to stay put.
“But it is a sign of the times that people’s expectation of relationships are more demanding.
“You are not expected to put up and shut up any more.”
Older couples are also the least likely to go for relationship counselling.
This may be because they are uncomfortable discussing their feelings and the problems there may be in the marriage, and so turn to divorce rather than counselling.
Andrew G. Marshall, a marriage therapist and author of I Love You But I’m Not In Love with You, said: “Older people are less likely to ask for help.
“There has been a cultural revolution in the country of people who will seek counselling, but the cut-off point seems to be around 50.
“People under the age of 50 are more comfortable talking about their feelings, but the the older a person is the more difficult it seems to be. This might be because their problems are more ingrained.”
Marilyn Stowe, of Stowe Family Law, has seen the number of older people seeking her help with divorces rise steadily.
She said: “Sometimes you have one person who will have been looking forward to retirement, while the other might be looking forward to retirement, but without the other person.
“They feel they have done their duty and want to move on.
“It can be tragic for the person who is left behind as they miss companionship, their social life may suffer and it is difficult getting used to being alone.
“It is like a bereavement, but in a way it is worse because your partner is still there.
“Grown-up children will also find it difficult, they tend to be more judgmental and side with one person.
“But people feel that they only have one life and they have got to make the most of it.”
In 2002 there were 1.698million divorced people in England and Wales.
In 2003 the figure rose to 1. 786million and in mid-2005 it stood at 1.97million.
According to the Office for National Statistics there were fewer than 133,000 divorces last year, a 6 per cent fall on 2005 and the lowest number since the mid-1970s.
One reason for the decline is that fewer people are marrying.
Although the number of divorces among over-50s has risen between 2001 and 2006, the rate of increase has fluctuated.
After more than two decades of marriage, Rita Whitfield-Coups joined tens of thousands of women her age in the divorce courts.
Having brought up two children, she began to build a career for herself as an assistant at a management consultancy and wanted more independence.
Her husband, Mark, 67, a computer programmer, had retired and as she sought out new opportunities they gradually grew apart.
After 22 years of marriage they went their separate ways.
“Our generation was the first in which mothers had the opportunity to have a career,” said Mrs Whitfield-Coups, now 61, of Croydon, South London.
“When I started working part-time as the children got older, I found it fulfilling.
“But I realised I had never been my own person. In fact, it was my decision to end the marriage. I resented not being an equal.
“Nowadays, women want to be treated as equal partners in a marriage. I was responsible for the children and the home, and he was the provider.
“My money was to pay for treats and holidays. I am a product of my times in that I wanted my own independent life, and it was my decision to leave.
“I felt I had to stand on my own two feet, and I couldn’t do that in a marriage.
“We grew apart and stopped communicating, even though our marriage had been happy.
She added: “Divorce was much harder than I could ever have imagined.
“You take so much for granted when you are one half of a couple, and suddenly everything falls away – your social life, confidence, financial security.”
November 12, 2007