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  • John C. Whitbeck, Jr.


    John C. Whitbeck, Jr. practices in the following areas of law: Family Law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Mediation, Arbitration, Relocation Cases, Domestic Violence, Criminal Law, DUI/DWI, Reckless Driving, All Felonies, All Misdemeanors, Juvenile Crimes, Mental Health Law, Civil and Business Litigation, Construction Litigation, Education Law, Election Law, Debt Collection, Consumer and Lemon Law.

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  • Ruth M. McElroy


    Ruth M. McElroy practices in the following areas of law: Family law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Relocation Cases, Pre and Post Marital Agreements, Domestic Violence, Reckless Driving, DUI/DWI, Juvenile Crimes, Felony and Misdemeanor Crimes, Traffic Offenses, Debt Collection, Civil and Business Litigation. She serves the Virginia Court system as a Guardian ad litem.

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  • Jennifer D. Cisneros


    Jennifer D. Cisneros practices in the following areas of law: Family law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Relocation Cases, Domestic Violence, Juvenile Crimes, Reckless Driving, DUI/DWI, Estate Planning, Wills and Probate, Trusts, Civil and Business Litigation and Debt Collection.

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Gray Divorce and What it Means for You


The term gray divorce refers to divorces involving the demographic of older, or “gray-haired,” people who have been married for a long time, sometimes as long as 40 years. This term is typically reserved for people aged 50 and older. The trend has been around for years, but it was only given this name more recently.

So, there is a term called “gray divorce,” but what sorts of issues and/or challenges do they bring when compared to a regular “divorce.”

Challenges with a Gray Divorce

You might be wondering what makes a gray divorce different and why should divorcing after 31 years of marriage be that more difficult versus 13 years of marriage. Some challenges can include:

  • Asset accumulation: This is a pretty common sense one. If you’ve been married for 40 years, you likely have far more assets versus a couple who recently married. This can present a challenge because it can be more complex to divide up assets like retirement accounts with high balances.
  • Health Insurance and Loss of Other Benefits: Things like health insurance and the loss of other benefits, like higher social security payments, can be a huge burden for the other spouse.
  • Re-entering the Workforce: Like the loss of benefits such as health insurance, it’s hard for someone who’s been married and a stay-at-home spouse for years to suddenly re-enter the workforce to make a living for themselves.
  • Need for Aggressive Retirement Plan: Since this divorce is happening much later in life, the ability to start a new retirement fund can be a challenge. There is no time available to rebuild a retirement account over 40 years or more. Not to mention, now the spouses are planning for maintaining separate households of their own versus shared expenses.

Issues to Watch Out For in a Gray Divorce

There are some things to pay attention to that you may not be thinking about when divorcing much later in life.

  • Change Beneficiaries: Make sure you are changing all the beneficiaries on your important paperwork – these include 401(k) plans, life insurance, and any other policies that require a beneficiary for payout.
  • Annuities: Dividing an annuity may be more difficult and require a judge’s approval in some instances. Future payments may be divided up between ex-spouses or paid out in lump sums to each.
  • Any Court Settlements: If you have any sort of structured settlement that was adjudicated during the marriage, your ex-spouse may have a claim on that.
  • Alimony Claims: In marriages where one spouse supported the other for so many years, a claim of alimony is almost always present. In some cases, a judge may award alimony payments based on earning potential rather than just current earnings. And, in some cases, people who have to pay alimony are required to have life insurance in the amount equal to dollar wise and duration of alimony stated in the divorce decree.
  • Proving Separate versus Marital Property: After so many years of being married, proving what is separate property versus marital property is more complex and requires skilled legal advice.

Hiring a Virginia Family Law Attorney

If you’re looking at getting divorced later in life, it’s imperative you have a knowledgeable Virginia family law attorney handling your case. The attorneys at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC are experts in all areas of family law matters, including “gray divorce”. Please contact our Leesburg office today to schedule an appointment.

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Governor Northam’s Executive Order 53 provides that businesses that offer professional rather than retail services may remain open. Our firm is continuing to operate to ensure you and your family have advocates available for whatever legal issue you face. For clients who prefer, we can arrange meeting by Zoom or other video-conferencing. We are also implementing internal procedures to provide a safe environment in the office. Please contact us at 703-777-1795 or schedule an appointment today!