Relationship Breakdown in Later Life: Divorce or Separation?

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If your relationship ends after years, or even decades, of marriage it’s hard to know where to start when it comes to adjusting to life on your own.

The first step is to remember that you’re never really alone. Whether it’s friends and family or an expert Divorce Solicitor to walk you through your next steps, know that there is help available to make the transition into your new life as easy as possible.

At Simpson Millar, we have years of experience in helping separating couples know their rights in separation and divorce. Our friendly Divorce Solicitors will always offer you a professional yet personal service, with advice tailored to you and your family.

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How is Later Life Divorce Different?

The law in England and Wales is the same for all divorces no matter what age you are but there are different things you might want to think about before getting a divorce or separation later in life, such as:

  • Whether separation would work better for you than divorce
  • What do with the family home
  • How to divide assets you’ve shared for years, if not decades
  • If and how you will share your pensions, especially if one of you was a homemaker or worked less than the other
  • Rewriting or making a Will and changing or appointing Lasting Powers of Attorney

We can help you decide if divorce or separation works best for you based on your circumstances, but here is a general breakdown of your options:


The number of people getting a divorce over the age of 65 has significantly increased in recent years. There are lots of reasons for this, as some couples wait for their children to fly the nest and others experience a new lease of life after retirement.

One example is Bill and Melinda Gates, who recently ended their 27-year marriage at the age of 65 and 56. They have 3 children, with the youngest turning 18 just last year.

  • "We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in the next phase of our lives."

    Bill and Melinda Gates

    Divorcing after 27 years

How to Divide Assets in Later Life Divorce?

The more years you’ve spent building up marital assets sometimes means the harder it is to divide them.

When dividing assets, the factors that the Court will consider remain the same whether you are divorcing early or later in life. Even if your divorce doesn’t go as far as Court, your Divorce Solicitor can give you a full financial assessment, taking into account both of your:

  • Income and earning capacities
  • Financial needs now and in the future
  • Standard of living enjoyed before marriage breakdown
  • Age and duration of the marriage
  • Physical or mental disabilities
  • Contributions to the marriage including looking after the home or caring for the family
  • Loss of benefits that being married brought you

When dealing with the division of assets in divorce, the starting point for the Courts is a 50/50 split. But if an equal division can’t meet one of your needs, you should get advice from a Divorce Solicitor. We will look at all of your assets and divide them in a way that means you can be sure your financial settlement is fair for both of you.


If you’ve ended your marriage on friendly terms and don’t plan on re-marrying, you might want to think about getting a separation instead of a divorce.

You might have known for some time that your marriage was coming to an end and have already made big life changes before finalising any legal documents. If this sounds familiar, then a legal separation lets you take that final step to making your financial split official without having to take on the divorce process.

It’s important to know that only a divorce means you can remarry and legally divide your pensions with a Pension Sharing Order.

If you don’t want to issue a petition for divorce, then you could get Separation Agreement or Judicial Separation – let’s take a look at what each involves:

Separation Agreement

A separation agreement is a document that sets out how you want to split your assets after separating. If you wants to divide your finances but avoid divorce, a separation agreement allows you to do this without going through the divorce process.

A separation agreement doesn’t need to be approved by the Court, and is technically not a legally binding document, but it can act as a formal contract.

And if you decide to divorce later down the line, you can ask the Court to make a Financial Order, which is legally binding, in the same terms as your separation agreement.

Judicial Separation

Unlike a separation agreement, judicial separation is a formal separation that goes through the Court in a similar process to divorce. The main difference is that unlike a divorce you remain married at the end of the process and instead of receiving a Decree Nisi and a Decree Absolute there is just one decree pronouncing the judicial separation.

This lets the Court make an Order about the division of assets similar to a Financial Order in divorce.

You may choose this option if there are specific reasons why you can’t divorce, such as religious reasons. In any case, you can choose to divorce later down the line.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Now you know your options, it’s time to weigh up what you think might work best for you.

Advantages of Divorce

  • You can get a Pension Sharing Order - this means you’ll have a legal document stating exactly how you’ll share your pensions
  • You can remarry - even if you think you’ll never remarry, divorce will keep your options open
  • It’s legally binding - unlike a separation agreement, a Financial Order in divorce is a legal document
  • While it may be more expensive you can save money elsewhere - most of the time in later life divorce there are no child arrangements to sort out and a level of maturity means you can sort your finances amicably, so the divorce may be cheaper and quicker than average anyway
  • You can get a clean break - Assets can be divided so you can get a clean break with no attachments to your former partner

Advantages of Separation

  • Quicker than divorce - even with a Solicitor drafted separation agreement, it will likely be quicker than the waiting period for a divorce to be finalised
  • Less costly - It will be cheaper than financial remedy proceedings if you decide to prepare a separation agreement instead
  • Works if you’re religious or can’t divorce - if a divorce isn’t an option, getting a legal separation allows you to live separate lives
  • Better if you wish to remain married - a separation agreement will let you to divide all of your assets, except for pensions, without getting a divorce

No matter what you decide, our Divorce Solicitors are experts at handling relationship breakdowns and we can help you.

Get in touch, today!

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