Relationship Breakdown in Later Life: Divorce or Separation?

Posted on: 7 mins read
Last updated:
Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

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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 to decide if divorce or separation works best for you based on your circumstances, but we’ve outlined a general breakdown of your options below to allow you to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option available to you.


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

One example is Bill Gates and Melinda Gates who recently ended their 27 year marriage in 2021 at the age of 65 years old and 56 years old respectively. They have 3 children together, with the youngest child turning 18 years old just last year. When announcing their separation, the former couple stated: 

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

How to Divide Assets in a 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 an official document of agreement that sets out how you want to split your assets after separating. If you want 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 between you and your former partner. Many couples in England and Wales choose to create a Separation Agreement if they want to stop living together and put arrangements in place for things like finances, children and property.

Ultimately, if you decide to divorce later down the line, you can ask the Court to make a Financial Order which will be 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.

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 should you wish to do so.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Now that you know all your options, it’s time to weigh up what you think might work best for you. It’s important to recognise that every marriage is different and the circumstances of each separation will be different – there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach so it’s about considering what’s right for you.

Advantages of Divorce

  • You can get a Pension Sharing Order which means you’ll have a legal document stating exactly how you’ll share your pensions
  • You can remarry which is a good option to have, - even if you think you’ll never remarry
  • Unlike a Separation Agreement, a divorce is  legally binding and involves a Financial Order which is legally binding too
  • While it may be more expensive, you can save money elsewhere as 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. This means that the divorce may be cheaper and quicker than average anyway
  • You can get a clean break as assets can be divided so that you both can get a clean break with no attachments to your former partner

Advantages of Separation

  • It’s quicker than divorce, even with a Separation Agreement drafted by a solicitor, it will likely be quicker than the waiting period for a divorce to be finalised
  • Less costly as it will be cheaper than financial remedy proceedings if you decide to prepare a separation agreement instead
  • It 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 instead without the formality of divorce
  • Better option for you both if you wish to remain married as 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.

Everyone’s situation is different and there’s not one size that fits all, which is why we recommend getting legal advice from a Divorce Solicitor who can advise you based on your situation.

Whatever your situation is, we can help you to find the best way of amicably bringing your relationship to an end while protecting your finances and assets for the rest of your life. Our expert legal advice will always be personal and tailored to you and your family.

We offer a variety of options for appointments including telephone and video calls - whatever suits you best. We’re here to support you and make the process as easy as possible for you. You will be fully supported throughout the divorce process and we will deal with your former partner or their Divorce Solicitor and the Court. This takes the pressure off you, so that you can take care of yourself and your family.

To contact one of our expert Divorce Solicitors, please call our friendly and helpful team today on 0808 239 3465 who will be more than happy to help. Alternatively, you can request a call back


Independent. (21/12/2022). Bill and Melinda Gates divorce: How to cope if you're going through a separation. [Online] Available at: (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

The Telegraph. (01/09/2023). The health impact of divorce: From mental to physical and psychological. [Online] Available at: (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

UK Government. (n.d.). Power of Attorney. [Online] Available at: (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

UK Government. (n.d.). Make a Will. [Online] Available at: (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Simpson Millar LLP. (n.d.). What Is a Separation Agreement? [Online] Available at: (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Simpson Millar LLP. (n.d.). The Divorce Process Explained. [Online] Available at: (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

Areas of Expertise:
Family Law

Lorraine is a Partner at Simpson Millar, specialising in Family Law for over 20 years.

She handles middle to high net value cases, including pension claims and complex trust, and also advises on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements.

Lorraine has unrivalled knowledge of public sector pensions, in particular police pensions, having advised police officers on pension claims for two decades.

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