Statistics seem to support the theory that as the economy worsens, the divorce rate goes down. Many couples, fearing they can't make it on their own finances, opt to stay together, at least until they can afford to split. But older couples, too, are finding that divorce late in life can be a risky prospect.

As one wealth adviser puts it, the quickest way to cut your assets in half is to get a divorce. But for many people, "half" could be a whole lot less, depending on where they work or whether they work at all. Not surprisingly, women tend to fare worse financially in a late divorce. Especially in the case of older couples, they work fewer years than their husbands because they're more likely to have taken time off to raise children. That leaves them with fewer assets and less negotiating power.

With older couples having more traditional roles, women are also less likely to have managed the household finances. That can leave them panicked and unprepared to be financially independent. Couples in this situation should take action by developing individual credit histories. That means getting an individual credit card and making purchases under separate names, ensuring that when the time does come to split, each spouse will be better able to obtain a loan, get another credit card or secure an apartment.

Health care is another concern. Many people are covered by their spouse's health insurance plan, and if they divorce, that coverage will either end or become prohibitively expensive. It might actually be worth putting off a divorce until the non-covered spouse turns 65 and is eligible for Medicare. Long-term care insurance is another consideration for divorcing couples. Paying for assisted living, in-home nursing or medical equipment could be much harder to do once a spouse's income is cut in half.

Finally, take a good look at your pension, if you have one. Survivor rights to a pension could be lost in a divorce. And an ex may be entitled to 50 percent of the other spouse's Social Security benefits if they're greater amount and the couple was married for at least 10 years and divorced for at least two.
Some financial advisers even recommend legal separation as an alternative to divorce because it can eliminate a lot of the financial complications. Of course, if you've really had it with your spouse, this ease might not be worth staying married. Just make sure you know what you're gaining -- and losing -- whatever route you decide to take.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "When Divorce Unravels Your Retirement Plans," Ruthie Ackerman, Dec. 24, 2011