By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Baby boomers, the post-World War Two generation that redefined traditional values and forged changes in lifestyle and social mores, are doing it again - in divorce court.
A poll of American divorce lawyers showed that 61 percent have seen an increase in the number of gray divorces among people over 50 in the United States.
Nearly a quarter of gray divorces were initiated by wives, compared to 14 percent by husbands.
"Baby boomers have regularly been catalysts for social change, and getting divorced in their later years appears to be one of the most recent trends," said Alton Abramowitz, a New York lawyer and president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), which conducted the survey.
"There is a clear indication that there is a surge in over-50s divorces," he added in an interview.
Alimony was the most contentious issue in 38 percent of divorces among boomers - people born between 1946 and 1964. Business interests came in second at 20 percent, followed by retirement accounts and pensions, according to the online poll of the 1,600 AAML members.
Abramowitz, a baby boomer himself, attributes the rise in boomer divorce to several factors. People are living longer, they are reaching retirement, the children have left home, relationships have changed and it is now easier to get a divorce, even after decades of marriage.
"Some people find a younger partner. Some people find their interests have diverged. Each case is different," he explained.
NO LONGER WILLING TO STICK IT OUT
In the United States, statistics show roughly 45 percent of marriages end in divorce and the rate is even higher for subsequent marriages.
A report by the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio showed that the divorce rate among middle-aged and older adults has doubled during the past two decades, and the rate was 2.5 times higher for remarriages than for first marriages.
And decades spent together was no guarantee the union would last, either. Former Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper divorced in their early 60s, after 40 years of marriage.
Lynne Gold-Bikin, a family lawyer in Norristown, Pennsylvania, expects to see more gray divorces in the future.
"I make a very, very good living from people who would rather fight and pay me than give it to the person they swore they would be married to forever," she said in an interview.
Boomers, facing mortality, are spurred to act if their marriage is not working, she added.
"People say to me, 'Life is too short. I am in the last quarter of my life and I am not happy. Get me out of here.'"
In her experience with boomer divorces, a third person is often involved, or the husband or wife waits until they have found someone else.
"They may need that push to get them out, what I call the springer. You need somebody to spring you from the marriage."
Abramowitz said women also have more established careers than earlier generations and a greater sense of financial independence, so they do not need to depend on their partner for long-term financial support.
"The baby boom generation grew up in a society that emphasized individual growth and development and independence. There has been a clear development of people's need to move on when the relationship is no longer satisfying," he added.
(Reporting by Patricia Reaney, Editing by Chris Michaud and Sandra Maler)