While divorces have been declining for most demographics, the opposite has been happening for longer marriages. The media have even coined a phrase for this: Gray Divorce.
In 2007, the appellate courts started taking the perspective that “[i]n a long- term marriage of 30 years or more, the trial court’s objective is to place the parties in roughly equal financial positions for the rest of their lives.” In re Marriage of Rockwell I, 141 Wn. App. 235, 243, 170 P.3d 572 (2007). Much confusion was caused by this decision. Subsequently, the courts clarified that this division was just a goal and was not mandatory. “An objective of placing the parties to a long-term marriage in ‘roughly equal’ financial positions, is not a mandate for trial courts to predict the future, divide assets with mathematical precision, or guarantee future equality. The trial court must still exercise its discretion to consider all of the statutory factors set out in RCW 26.09.080 and RCW 26.09.090(1)(c) and reach a just and equitable distribution.” In re Marriage of Kaplan, 4 Wn. App. 2d 466, 475-76, 421 P.3d 1046 (Div. 1 2018). The question has also arisen as to whether the concept of dividing assets equally applied to an award of spousal support. The courts have subsequently clarified this issue as well. “Rockwell concerned the just and equitable division and distribution of property under RCW 26.09.080, not entitlement to spousal maintenance.” In re Marriage of Kile, 186 Wn. App. 864, 887, __ P.3d __ (2015).
Long-term marriages can become complex cases and significant work may be involved to obtain a just and equitable outcome for the parties. For example, there may be significant assets, but limited income, or vice versa. The question arises as to what is fair to both parties? If you are facing a Grady Divorce you should promptly seek competent legal counsel at the outset of the case.