Home Australia Why Downsizing Your Home Could Lead to DIVORCE: The stress faced by older couples moving into smaller homes may be causing a rise in ‘silver supporters’

Why Downsizing Your Home Could Lead to DIVORCE: The stress faced by older couples moving into smaller homes may be causing a rise in ‘silver supporters’

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A trend is emerging among older couples, known as 'Silver Splitters', divorcing after downsizing their home.

In my 45 years as a divorce lawyer, I have seen couples break up for every possible reason, from men running off with younger versions of their wives to women running off with their husband’s prettier brother.

Despite being involved in around 100,000 divorces, I still see trends emerge regularly.

The latest is a growing number of older couples, known as ‘Silver Splitters’, who are splitting up after downsizing their home.

A trend is emerging among older couples, known as ‘Silver Splitters’, divorcing after downsizing their home.

Usually everything goes well at first. The couple is looking forward to the next chapter of their lives, perhaps because the kids have finally left the nest, one or both of them have stopped working, and they are excited to enjoy the retirement they have worked so hard to achieve. Then things fall apart, and often the downsizing itself is to blame.

Take my clients Tom and Helen*, for example, who decided to downsize last year. As they moved from a three-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment, it was clear they had to get rid of a lot of belongings.

Tom insisted that Helen’s family’s “garbage” should be removed without looking back. Unfortunately, Helen did not take the same view. Her mother’s planter, her large Chinese flower pots, and a sideboard (carved by her great-grandfather) should not disappear. Instead, Helen kindly suggested that Tom’s collection of 78 rpm records, including those by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, could go first. Tom lost his temper completely. Discussions dragged on for weeks and neither side was willing to budge. Tom and Helen never cut back on their work together, but after a difficult divorce they did so separately.

Helen kept all of her mother’s treasure and Tom kept his record collection. However, the case did have a happy ending since months later Tom and Helen met by chance. They’re dating again, but Helen tells me they’ve agreed they’ll never move in together.

Another sticking point is the family pet and what will happen when they decide to move from a large property with a garden to an apartment.

Typically, one party tends to be much more attached to the pet than the other (and would rather commit to downsizing plans than give it up), while the other doesn’t want their preferences to take second place to the pet. of an animal.

Tensions can escalate quickly. Where would Rover sleep? Who would take him for a walk? And, more importantly, is he allowed to have a pet in the premises he wants to move to? As one client told me: “A pet should be for life, not until you downsize.”

Couples who are downsizing may also find that their relationship was only held together by their large family home, allowing them to live largely separate lives but under the same roof. Closer, reality emerges.

Take my client Sally, whose husband Sebastian told her they should move to a much smaller house and that Sally would love it. She does not. In fact, she hated everything about living in an apartment: the noise, the lack of peace, the absence of friendly neighbors.

She felt claustrophobic and thought that every room she entered meant bumping into Sebastian. Before, when they lived in the family home, they watched the television programs of their choice in separate rooms; Now they had to see the same thing. He hated reality shows, she loved them. She hated sports, he loved it. She said she hadn’t considered that downsizing would feel exactly the same as lockdown during Covid and that she just wanted to scream every day.

When Sally came to see me she felt divorce was the only option. Fortunately, it turned out that her marriage could be saved, largely thanks to counseling and the installation of a second television in the guest room. Marriages can also come under great pressure when they downsize, not only from the couple themselves, but also from the family as a whole.

Families are often used to staying with mom and dad for Christmas, family occasions or even just to look after the kids. It is not always pleasant that this is no longer possible when older couples exchange their house for a flat.

Many couples have described to me conflicts that they had never anticipated, such as not being able to take care of their grandchildren at night or entertain the family at Christmas.

My client Val and her husband Peter made what they considered a sensible decision for the future regarding their living arrangements. They had a large garden that they could no longer look after themselves and it was clear that the family house had to go. But they hadn’t thought through that their children would feel so excluded from their decision that they would no longer talk to them.

Val felt that, in retrospect, Peter had pressured her to move out of their comfortable family home into a two-bedroom penthouse and that she hadn’t had time to think it through. She was so distraught by the turn of events that she sought the advice of a lawyer and divorced her.

Divorce lawyer Vanessa says she has been involved in around 100,000 divorces over her 45-year career.

Divorce lawyer Vanessa says she has been involved in around 100,000 divorces over her 45-year career.

One factor that has remained constant throughout my career is that if a marriage is on the brink, it only takes one big problem to make it disappear forever.

So, there could be the loss of a parent or family member, loss or change of job, relocation, an affair, another child that one party did not want, financial worries, or a house move.

Often, downsizing simply reveals problems that were there from the beginning, but had not yet surfaced until then.

Downsizing can, of course, give couples a new lease on life, but it comes with its own strains that can break up already struggling relationships.

My client Cynthia decided that, since the children had left the nest and cleaning her huge Hampstead house was too onerous (and she couldn’t find a reliable cleaner), it was clearly time for her and her husband Charles to move somewhere much more It only needed a cleaner twice a week. “What we need is a three-bedroom apartment with a view,” she told her husband.

Well, Cynthia got her wish to have such a property, but not in the way she expected. She couldn’t have imagined that her trustworthy Charles, in his sixties, would run off with the real estate agent.

While Cynthia’s case was extreme, she moved into the type of property she wanted and got much more in the overall financial deal.

And as she told me later: “Without having to deal with all of Charles’ quirks anymore.”

It is imperative that long before you make the decision to end your entire life as you know it, you carefully consider all of the above. If you don’t want to end up like Cynthia and Charles, Val and Peter, Tom and Helen, or Sally and Sebastian, you need to talk about your decision.

Is it better to downsize or take careful advice on releasing capital before doing so? What will be the impact of your move? Will you regret it for a multitude of reasons or will you enjoy being freed from the onerous responsibilities that come with a larger house?

And most importantly: will they want to face their reduced future together?

❋All names have been changed to protect client confidentiality.

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