The traditional 25th Wedding Anniversary Gift is Silver. Indeed, Bill & Melinda Gates could afford to exchange silver anniversary gifts on their 25th anniversary. Now, in their 27th year of marriage, they are exchanging divorce papers.

According to the internet, Bill and Melinda Gates are negotiating an uncontested divorce dividing the marital estate of somewhere in the 129 Billion Dollar range and working on a separation agreement. Reportedly, the Gates’ have no prenuptial agreement.

Bill and Melinda Gates are the latest super-wealthy celebrity couple to seek a grey divorce. Grey Divorce, so-called because of the dissolution of older couples’ long-term marriages, appears to be an ever-increasing trend. According to Wikipedia, numerous reasons have been offered for the uptick in grey divorce, including the advent of anti-impotence drugs, increasing longevity, and increasing women’s financial independence. https:\\en.wikipedia.org\Grey_divorce.

Grey divorces present specific challenges that may not be present in divorces involving younger couples or less established marital estates.  

For example, grey divorces often happen with spouses who are more established in their careers and may have more sophisticated compensation packages than their younger counterparts.

The division of vested or unvested stock options or restricted stock options, for example, brings different issues to the task of dissolving a marriage than the relatively simple task of dividing an IRA. Whether an ERISA qualified retirement account is now or soon to be in payout status is another consideration that a grey divorce may present as a more urgent issue than in a case where retirement appears long on the horizon.

In Massachusetts, while a grey divorcee may be the payor or recipient spouse of a general–term alimony order terminable at full retirement age, that payment horizon may be shorter than in a divorce of a younger couple because the payor spouse is nearer to full retirement age. Also, whether one of the grey divorcing spouses has health issues may be more prevalent with older couples than with younger divorcing couples.

While somewhere around 99.9% of grey divorces will not involve the vast wealth of the Gates or Bezos divorces, grey divorces have larger estates and more significant expenses than divorces where the parties’ hair follicles are alive and well.

So, it is important that grey divorcees, silver splitters or diamond divorcees look to find attorneys who are experienced in handling the more complex issues that are often present when older couples with longer-term marriages are seeking a divorce.

Although not a litmus test, grey divorcees may do well to seek a lawyer who sports some grey themselves to guide them through the divorce process.

Here are some tips for those who may be looking to counsel to help them navigate through a grey divorce:

  1. Look for an attorney with a proven track record in family law who has been in practice a minimum of fifteen years and who has significant trial experience.
  2. Do not hire a general practice lawyer. The old adage of a jack of all trades being a master of none is particularly apt in a grey divorce.
  3. Get your stuff together for your lawyer. After my initial consultation with a client who has decided to hire my firm to represent them, my office will provide a list of documents that we will ask the client to provide. Gather what is requested and provide it early to your counsel.
  4. Consider mediation, but with a mediator who is experienced. I prefer mediators who are (a) attorneys and (b) experienced litigators and trial attorneys. Mediation is private, can be less expensive than litigation, and, with prevailing court delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic, may result in reaching an agreement faster than in litigation.

Whether Harry Left Sally or Sally Left Harry, divorces among spouses in their 50’s & 60’s are thinking about personal freedom and retirement all at the same time. And there is little room for added concerns, such as conflict and high legal bills.

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