The rate of late-in-life divorces has doubled in the past decade. The golden years are now viewed as the last opportunity to find happiness. The dramatic growing number of grey-haired divorces impacts how families look at their elders. It affects family members at all levels, financially and emotionally. The combination of limited income, financial needs, and maintaining family relationships requires knowledge of resources and creativity to meet the unique needs of late in life divorces. The following top ten tips can be used by family law professionals in working with high-conflict families of elders.
- Do not think you will find out everything about the conflict in the first meeting with the family. Families have secrets that have lasted for years and it may take some time and trust before they let you into their inner circle.
- There is not one truth to the reason for the conflict. Each family member has their own perception which should be respected.
- Elders are not wrinkled children. They have legal rights that children do not have until the age of majority. Be respectful of the elder’s culture, including generational, ethnic, and religious background as well as other unique characteristics.
- Elders are accustomed to their independence and doing things the way they have always done them. When they are confronted by normal physical and mental tasks that now challenge their abilities, it is difficult for them to acknowledge their need for help. Be prepared to help them save face with diplomacy that will enable them to accept help without having to admit they need it.
- Elders are sensitive about their mortality and we need to be, too. It is unfair to put elders in the center of conflict, especially if their faculties are being compromised by the frailties of aging. Life is too short. We also need to recognize that time is of the essence and that when elders need help they cannot always wait for the dust to settle.
- Families do not age out. They continue to grow, bringing their old problems along with them. Elders and their loved ones need the same conflict resolutions as younger families. (They also need the professional services of FLAFCC members at this point in the age spectrum.)
- What affects the elder, affects all the generations after. The modeling you provide will be helping the youngest generations and even those generations to come.
- Being gray haired does not necessarily mean being old and ready for the nursing home. It can still be a time to pursue personal happiness despite the impact on the family structure, be it separation, divorce, or late in life marriage.
- Elders may need to be shielded from family members seeking to protect inheritances by challenging the elder’s mental capacity, unduly influencing the elder, and controlling the elder’s life.
- Eldercaring Coordination can help! Eldercaring Coordination is an empowering, non-adversarial dispute resolution method used to help manage high conflict family dynamics so that the elder, family, and stakeholders can address their concerns independently from the court.
By: Linda Fieldstone, Michelle Morley, Yueh-Mei Kim Nutter
For more information, contact Kim Nutter, Esq. at Kim.firstname.lastname@example.org, Linda Fieldstone, M.Ed. at Linda Fieldstone@outlook.com, or Judge Michelle Morley at Mmorley@circuit5.org.