August 12, 2011
Years Later, Divorce Complicates Caregiving
A higher proportion of the 60-plus population is currently married now, in part because lengthening lifespans mean that fewer become widowed (PDF). But many of those are second or third marriages, according to census data: among men over 50 who’d ever been divorced, almost 56 percent were married in 2004, as were 40 percent of ever-divorced women.
Which can create some thorny situations.
Years after parents split, their children may wind up helping to sustain two households instead of one, and those households can be across town or across the country. Further, unmarried women (whether single, widowed or divorced) face significantly higher poverty rates in middle and old age, according to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (PDF) that AARP published last year.
Diane Fener and her sister and brothers each contribute money to support their mother and father. “I don’t resent any of it,” she said, “but if they hadn’t gotten divorced, their budgets wouldn’t be as strained.” Neither would their offspring’s.
With remarriages, moreover, the cast of characters increases. Children may find themselves caring for three or four older people instead of one or two, dealing with several sets of doctors, social workers, accountants and attorneys. And with stepsiblings, sometimes a squadron of them.
“There are more people to share some of the burden, but also more people to negotiate with,” said Xenia Montenegro, author of an AARP report on midlife divorce (PDF). “You may have more sources of support, or more sources of conflict.”