Roni Rosenblum, shown at her Oceanside home March 7, is among a...

Roni Rosenblum, shown at her Oceanside home March 7, is among a growing number of people who have gotten divorced later in life. Credit: Newsday / Kendall Rodriguez

Roni Rosenblum married in 1972 after a whirlwind courtship. Even though she said the marriage was marred by acrimony, arguments and money troubles, she didn’t think she could leave.

“My mother used to tell me, ‘You can’t go anywhere. You have children, you don’t have an education. ... You have to stay with him.’ So I stayed,” Rosenblum recalled.

But in 2016, at the age of 69, Rosenblum finally filed for divorce.

“I was an idiot. I should have left a long time ago,” the Oceanside grandmother of four, now 77, said.

Late-in-life divorces like Rosenblum’s, sometimes called “gray divorce,” have become increasingly common. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center report, divorce rates among couples aged 50 and older have doubled since 1990. And among couples 65 and older, the divorce rate has roughly tripled since 1990.

Roni Rosenblum with her grandchildren, from left, Logan Noel, Zoey...

Roni Rosenblum with her grandchildren, from left, Logan Noel, Zoey Noel, Sarah Morales and Michael Morales DeLeon. Credit: Howard Simmons

My mother used to tell me, ‘You can’t go anywhere. You have children, you don’t have an education. ... You have to stay with him.’ So I stayed.

-Roni Rosenblum

Experts say divorce among baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, and people in their 50s often occurs after decades of an unfulfilling marriage. Typically, a spouse has contemplated the breakup and is just waiting for retirement or children to move out of the house. Factors leading to divorce can range from verbal and physical abuse, mental illness and addictive behavior to infidelity, financial disagreements and deeply rooted disputes, experts said.

“Research has shown that baby boomers are getting divorced at a high rate,” said Nicole Feuer, vice president of operations and development at the National Association of Divorce Professionals, headquartered in Miami.

But, she said, that trend may not continue for younger generations. “With people getting married later with more financial stability and others not marrying at all, this may be the last generation to see this huge surge in divorce.”

‘SHAME HAS BEEN REMOVED’

Contributing to the climbing gray divorce rate is couples who married young, said Stacy Pellettieri, a clinical social worker and owner of Long Island Counseling Services in East Meadow and Melville. According to a 2016 study by Psychology Today magazine, divorce was 50% less likely for couples who were at least 25 years old when they wed, compared to couples who married at age 20.

“For these older couples, they may have married young and picked the partner for the wrong reasons or picked one too soon,” Pellettieri said. “And as they have grown, they don’t have anything in common and feel the marriage was over a long time ago.”

There is also a growing societal tolerance for divorce, said Sarah McMillan, a marriage and family therapist in Massapequa. “Divorce is more socially acceptable now, but generations ago it was taboo,” she said. “The shame has been removed from it.”

Adding to the rising gray divorce rate is longer life expectancy, McMillan said. Those who reach the age of 65 can expect to live another two decades or more, causing some to opt out of a bad marriage.

“When people are in their mid-50s, they typically take inventory of their lives and evaluate what they have done and where they want to be at 65, and marriage is part of that evaluation,” McMillan said. “If their marriage has not been good, they are going to question: Do I want to live the next 30 years of my life in a miserable marriage, even if they are going to take a financial hit? If it’s bad enough, they won’t stay. They are willing to live poor to have peace.”  

REIMAGINING YOURSELF

At 53, Michael Fernandez, of Lake Grove, said he began to have serious misgivings about remaining in his marriage of more than 30 years. He had met his wife in college and, after a brief courtship, she became pregnant at 19. The couple dropped out of school and returned to Long Island to have the baby, Fernandez said.

A year later, they welcomed a second child, but soon after, he said, the marriage began to falter. “We could never get to the bottom of any issues,” said the federal law enforcement officer. “It was like Groundhog Day.”

In a last-ditch effort to save the relationship, Fernandez said the couple tried a trial separation and therapy, but to no avail.

“You’re not happy, and you start thinking, ‘Is this it for me and my life? Is this how I’m going to end up, spending the next 30 years here?’ ” he recalled.

By September 2022, Fernandez said the marriage hit its breaking point, and the couple decided to divorce.

While Fernandez, now 55, said he has since found fulfillment in a loving relationship with a colleague, he has had to adjust to a number of changes in his life.

“The first time I was alone was when I moved into my apartment. Before that it was the kids and family and two dogs. The silence here was deafening,” he said. And since household chores were taken care of by his former spouse, he said he had to learn how to cook, clean and do laundry.

Nevertheless, Fernandez has no regrets. “You realize you can be happy,” he said. “It takes time because you will be sad. You just have to get through that storm.”

Sarah McMillan.

Sarah McMillan. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Divorce is more socially acceptable now, but generations ago, it was taboo.

-Sarah McMillan, marriage and family therapist in Massapequa

Grief is common in divorce, Pellettieri said. “Even though someone initiates and wants a divorce, it’s still a death; there is a lot of grief to process,” she said. “There is questioning over who you are now: I was so-and-so’s husband or wife, and there is grief over what might have been.”

Other emotions, like guilt over initiating the divorce or hurt over being left behind, can haunt a spouse long after a breakup.

“The partner initiating the divorce sometimes feels guilty,” said Maria Schwartz, a divorce and family law attorney in Garden City. “The person can feel guilty about it because they are afraid of the impact on the spouse, the children and the grandchildren.”  

ALONE VERSUS LONELY

Anne Calvo, 70, of Baldwin, said she met her future husband at a party in the late 1970s. “We had a lot of things in common and we were comfortable with each other,” said the retired registered nurse. They married in 1981. She was 26; he was 24. But soon, money troubles caused their relationship to sour, Calvo said.

After a construction accident sidelined her spouse for a few years, he eventually found work in a different field. By then, though, Calvo said the couple had separate bedrooms and bank accounts, and communication was transactional.

In 2009, Calvo said her husband asked for a divorce.

After he moved out of the house, Calvo said she experienced a sense of liberation. “The tension is no longer in the house,” she said. “I’m happy, and I can do whatever I want. Financially, I’m managing better, and I’m comfortable living alone.”

Attorney Maria Schwartz outside Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola.

Attorney Maria Schwartz outside Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola. Credit: Danielle Silverman

The person can feel guilty about it because they are afraid of the impact on the spouse, the children and the grandchildren.

-Maria Schwartz, divorce and family law attorney in Garden City

But, said Pellettieri, some older couples experiencing marriage problems fear they will be lonely after a divorce and also grumble about the high cost of a legal breakup.

“For some of my older couples, it’s a fear of being alone and not being able to afford divorce,” she said. “They are reluctantly working on the relationship because they’re miserable and want to make it a little better. It’s more that ‘I want to leave, but I can’t because I can’t afford it.’ ”

The average hourly fee for a Long Island divorce attorney is about $500 per hour, and in Manhattan, it can run to $700 and up, said Schwartz. A divorce could range from a low of roughly $5,000 to $100,000 or more, if both parties cannot agree on the terms of the breakup, she said.

Mediation, meanwhile, can cost $3,000 to $4,000 for an uncomplicated divorce, said Feuer, of the National Association of Divorce Professionals. The process can take from a few sessions to, on rare occasions, as much as two years, she said.

Some divorce experts recommend mediation as a less costly avenue to divide marital assets. However, if a spouse is uncooperative or hiding assets, untrustworthy or bullies the partner, then the client can be referred to an attorney, said Gina M. Pellettieri, Stacy Pellettieri’s sister-in-law and a matrimonial and mediation attorney in Centereach.

In longtime marriages, couples can accumulate substantial assets or property. Assets acquired during the marriage, such as retirement and bank accounts, a home or other real estate, investments, a family business and Social Security (if the couple was married more than 10 years) are divided after negotiation, she said.

WOMEN PAY HIGH PRICE

In divorce, it’s older women who tend to be at a greater financial disadvantage. According to the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, the standard of living for women age 50 and older declines by 45% after divorce. For men, it’s a 21% drop.

This is mostly due to older women who gave up a career decades earlier to stay home to raise children, said Aviva Pinto, a certified divorce financial analyst and the managing director of Wealthspire Advisors in Manhattan and Melville.

By comparison, she said, “A younger couple divorcing has many years ahead of them to earn money. And they can go back to graduate school or get more education to boost their income. For older couples, especially for the spouse who stayed home, it is much harder for that person to get a job and earn enough to have the same lifestyle they were accustomed to.”

For spouses who decide to divorce, experts say it’s critical to assemble a team of professionals, including a family law attorney, financial planner, therapist, real estate agent (if a home is being sold), divorce coach and tax attorney.

“A divorce takes a village,” Feuer said. “When you get divorced, most people have no clue what’s involved. You’re learning while you’re going through the hardest transition of your life, which is especially difficult for older adults.”

Divorce experts recommend the following steps before initiating a legal breakup:

  • Understand your finances. “I can’t tell you how many people come in and don’t even know what their electric bill or the mortgage is because the other spouse handles it,” said Maria Schwartz, a divorce and family law attorney in Garden City.
  • Determine who is on the title to the car and the deed to the house, check your credit report and locate your tax returns. “Sometimes when you want to divorce, these documents are not available,” said Gina M. Pellettieri, a matrimonial and mediation attorney in Centereach.
  • Calculate your cost to live alone. “Can you survive going forward?” said Nicole Feuer, vice president of operations and development at the National Association of Divorce Professionals.
  • Work with a divorce or life coach and a therapist, Schwartz said. “You don’t want to go through half of a retainer to use an attorney as an emotional sounding board.”

— Donna Kutt Nahas

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