Double the trouble when divorced parents get old| Reuters

Double the trouble when divorced parents get old | Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Devin Pope never expected to find himself shuttling between his mother’s and father’s homes, caring for his aging parents separately.Sure, the 33-year-old financial planner from Miami, Florida.

Sure, the 33-year-old financial planner from Miami, Florida always knew his parents were going to get older. And he realized there would probably be health problems along the way, like when a stroke in 2001 left his dad partially paralyzed and without much of a short-term memory.

But he never expected that his folks would divorce just a few years later, after 27 years of marriage. Now his parents are facing their golden years apart, and instead of leaning on each other for support, they are depending on Pope and his siblings. Mostly on him, Pope says.

“It’s definitely not an easy situation, and there have been so many emotional hurdles,” says Pope, an adviser with Albion Financial Group. “It’s been a few years now, and it can be very discouraging. But that’s how life is sometimes.”

Now, when he pops over to his dad’s place to catch a St. Louis Rams game, his mom is not there. And when he grabs dinner and a movie with his mom, his dad is not there. It is a sad ending for a couple who first met at a high-school football game, so many years ago.

For Pope, it’s not just sad; it is time consuming, too. His dual responsibilities are taking a chunk out of his calendar, and his psyche.

If you are a child of one of the 79 million baby boomers in America, you need to be ready for this possibility. Indeed, one out of three boomers is currently unmarried, according to a study published this spring in The Gerontologist journal.

Some 60 percent of unmarried boomers are divorced. And that carries serious implications for the next generation: Who will care for those people, how will the emotional and financial costs of that care be shared – and what can society do to prepare for this demographic tsunami?

“We found that unmarried boomers are much more economically vulnerable than married boomers are,” says Susan Brown, a sociology professor at Ohio’s Bowling Green University and a co-author of the study. “They’re more likely to be poor and to be using public assistance, and they’re less likely to have

health insurance but more likely to have a disability.

“This all raises questions about who is going to provide for them as they become frail and infirm. And the answer is not entirely clear.”

Especially daunting is the expectation that the number of elderly, unmarried parents is only going to grow from here. “Since 1990, the divorce rate of those over 50 has doubled,” says Brown. “In 2010, the number of 50-plus divorcees was around 643,000. Even if the divorce rate remains flat over the next 20 years – and that’s a very conservative assumption – that number will increase by a third, to 828,000.”

When multiple marriages are involved, another sticky situation can arise: Adult children can be called upon to help not just biological parents, but also stepparents. And they may have to make tough choices for their parents, while working with stepsiblings they may not be close to, or even know very well.

The challenges are basically twofold for adult kids of divorced boomers.

One is financial: In 2011 the average annual cost for a private room at a nursing home was $87,235, according to the MetLife Market Survey of Long-Term Care Costs. An assisted-living facility costs $41,724 a year, while a home health aide charges an average of $21,840. Divorced couples cannot even take advantage of economies of scale by sharing an apartment or aide.

The second challenge, no less forbidding, is emotional. “As long as there are two parents together, they pretty much take care of each other,” says Francine Russo, author of “They’re Your Parents Too!” The real crunch comes when a single parent needs care, and the children have to deal with it, she said.

That was the case with Pope, who admits he was caught in the middle between his mother and father. Soon after the divorce, he tended to defend his father – not because of any inherent favoritism, but because the stroke had diminished the older man’s ability to understand his situation and surroundings.

But adult children of divorce can face other emotional challenges: They may feel anger or resentment at one parent, or feel like they have to parse out their time equally between both parents.

“The emotional stakes are very high, and it can get pretty intense,” says Russo.

In a society with so many divorces, a retirement apart is in some ways the new normal.

“The biggest challenge is balancing it all,” says Pope. “After all, you still have to have your own life, too.”

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