Silver splitters- people who divorce later in life – are on the increase in New Zealand, hundreds of family lawyers have said.

A New Zealand Law Society and Grant Thornton survey of family law practitioners- the first of its kind in this country- reveal divorce trends and patterns, including the rise of the ‘silver splitter’, and the reasons why we divorce- simply falling out of love.

The New Zealand Relationship Property Survey released its results this week, at the same time the Law Commission has invited submissions on the Property (Relationships) Act 1976.

Among the survey’s key findings was that although over 50s made up just 14 per cent of family law cases, 60 per cent of the 369 lawyers who respondeded (221 respondents) reported an increase in people aged 50+ separating, particularly those based in the Bay of Plenty, and the central North Island.

This year’s survey was launched following a similar Grant Thornton matrimonial survey in the United Kingdom, where there has also been a reported rise in silver splitters.

Divorce lawyer Jeremy Sutton told the Weekend Herald in his experience people divorced later in life because they were more financially secure, and children had moved out.

“When the kids are older people are more relaxed about being divorced at that stage, because the major childcare is done. (In Auckland) due to house prices here people are becoming reasonably self sufficient,” he said.

“People are saying, ‘we used to spend our time looking after our kids, now the kids have moved on, and we don’t have much in common and we have enough money, so I can be independent again’. People feel more empowered…and can read stuff online, like ‘how to divorce’. There’s more information.”

Former Auckland woman Julie Marshall says the empowerment that comes from being older and more financially secure prompted her to leave her husband of 28 years when she was 51.

She says it took time for her to be confident enough to strike out on her own, and wished she had done it earlier.

It took four years of contemplating before leaving, Marshall said. By then her children were old enough to understand.

She shifted to Timaru to start a new life, and hasn’t looked back.

“You’ve got to be strong in yourself and think ‘I can do it,’. When I left it was a relief,” she says.

“You actually find yourself, and you find out who you are, not just as a mum and wifey. I started to do things I wanted to do, but didn’t have the guts.”

Law Society Family Law section chair Kirsty Swadling, who launched the survey with Grant Thornton, said the ramifications for older divorcees were complications in property division.

Older people were more likely to have significant assets to be divided, she said.

“Sometimes it will be a second relationship, so you may have people dividing their assets for a second time, which is often problematic for the parties.”

Last year 8169 divorces were registered with statistics showing the median age of divorce was 47 for men, and 44 for women- higher than previous.

The Grant Thornton survey revealed a ‘typical divorcee’ was aged between 40 and 49 with assets between $500,000 to $1m, who had fallen out of love with their partner.

The biggest problem between parties during settlement was reported to be withholding financial information, and there were calls from respondents for greater penalties for failing to disclose assets.

Respondents were asked to list the top three reasons they saw for separations in the past two years. Results showed the most common reason for splitting was falling out of love with 67 per cent of respondents- 247 practitioners- citing it as the top problem.

Two hundred respondents (52 per cent) said infidelity, and 121 said domestic abuse (33 per cent).

LAW COMMISSION REVIEW

Changes in New Zealand society and Kiwis’ significant interests in trusts have prompted a Law Commission review of the Property (Relationships) Act 1976. The Act, which sets out rules for how to divide property following divorce or death, is grounded in the principle of equal division.

However with one million Kiwis protecting their assets in half a million trusts- more per capita than any other country- the Commission has said the law needs updating.