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May 01, 2012

Book Review: Divorce in the Golden Years

David Godfrey

Divorce in the Golden Years is a well- researched and clearly written book addressing the unique issues of divorce in later life. I recommend this book without reservation for family law attorneys who occasionally represent older clients and for elder law attorneys who occasionally advise a client in a divorce matter.

The book opens with chapters on non-probate assets, intestacy, and wills and estate plans. These are seemingly odd topics for a book on divorce, but the author explains that there are two things that can go wrong in a divorce in later life. First, an older client is more likely to die during the pendency of a divorce. Secondly, jointly owned assets, beneficiary designations and estate plans often need to be changed at the time of divorce. While some beneficiary designations are revoked by a divorce, some are not. The impact on joint ownership and existing estate plans varies widely. The book provides excellent guidance on how to spot the issues and help your clients make changes and avoid unwanted outcomes.

Older adults are more likely to have created advance health care directives and powers of attorney. The book reviews the most common types of directives and describes the process for revoking and updating these documents as part of a divorce. These steps are a very important part of a divorce, as few people really want their ex-spouse making health care decisions or having access to their assets.

The book also concentrates on core divorce issues of equitable distribution and spousal support in light of complicating factors more likely to be present for an older couple. Clients in later life are more likely to own homes, be vested in retirement plans, and have savings and investments. The book examines why these issues require special attention for older clients and longer term marriages. The text moves onto issues of division or apportionment of retirement plans. Again, in these areas, the text provides extensive references to federal law and the laws in all 50 states. Lastly the text covers Social Security benefits for divorced spouses.

The appendices include state law charts and a practice check list rounding out this very well researched and documented book. The appendices are included on CD, making it easier to adopt things like the check list in everyday practice.

This book is a valuable reference that will endure for a good number of years.

Note: Author Leslie Ann Shaner is scheduled to co-present a workshop titled "What Aging Advocates Need to Know About Family Law" at the 2012 National Aging and Law Institute, November 8-10, in Washington. Go to: for details.


David Godfrey

About the Author: David Godfrey is a Senior Attorney at the ABA Commission on Law and Aging.