When it comes to how age affects custody agreements, most people assume that it's the age of the children that's at play. In some cases, however, the age of the soon-to-be-divorced spouses matters most. That's particularly relevant if there's a significant age gap between the parties. Why is parents' (or step-parents') age so crucial to the question of custody? What can you do if you're in the middle of a split from a much younger or older partner, and the age issue is affecting your custody battle? Let's take a closer look.
First, A Few Quick Statistics
In the United States and other Western countries, some 8% of heterosexual unions have a 10-plus year age gap. For gay and lesbian relationships, the figures are much higher, 15% for two partnered women and 25% for male-male couples. The average age difference in straight couples is a relatively short 2.3 years; in 64% of those, men are the eldest.
Oft-cited research shows that divorce rates increase, often dramatically, as the age gap between partners gets bigger. A five-year difference increases the chance of divorce by 18%, while people whose ages are ten years apart or more have a 39% likelihood of splitting. There are several factors behind these figures, including stigma, which is especially influential in marriages between a young woman and a much older man.
Problems Raising Children in Age-Gap Relationships
Parenting is unquestionably difficult for parents of any age, but perhaps more so for those who have kids when they themselves are older. Parents who are in their 40s, 50s, and beyond when their first child is born often find themselves having trouble keeping up physically as the child grows. It's much harder to deal with the sleepless nights that go hand-in-hand with newborns, to chase down a runaway toddler, or to engage in sports or other active pursuits with children of any age.
An older spouse may already have children of their own and be less inclined to pursue parenthood in their new relationship. Sometimes, too, there are financial concerns. If one or more of the would-be parents are paying alimony and/or child support in a previous relationship, the economic burden of additional families can be prohibitive.
Parenting styles and approaches to discipline can also vary depending on the parent's age. If there's a 15-year (or greater) gap, generational attitudes can play into parental philosophy, too.
Age Can Impact Custody Decisions—Fairly or Unfairly
These obstacles to parenting become even more consequential when the relationship fails, and the parents negotiate questions of custody. A judge may be reluctant to award an older parent the same physical custodial rights that a younger parent would receive.
The difference in age between the divorcees may have a legitimately significant impact on who will receive custody, but it may also be a prejudicial factor—in other words, judges can jump to conclusions about a parent's interest in or ability to be an active caretaker.
If you are in the process of splitting from a spouse who is significantly older or younger than you, and you feel that this difference (or just your age itself) has led to an unfair custody arrangement, the Lento Law Firm can help.