More senior partners uncoupling
The phenomenon of “jukunen rikon,” divorces by couples age 50 or over, who have lived together for 25 years or more, has been showing marked growth since the start of the new century.
Nikkan Gendai (Feb 21) warns middle-aged men that the consequences of ignoring what they have treated up to now as “minor grumbles” from their wives may result in much-feared “dokkyo-shi” (a solitary death).
It was last autumn when 62-year-old Mr A, a retired resident of Tokyo’s Nerima Ward, was abruptly told by his 60-year-old spouse, “I want to live by myself.” That was the opening shot in a drawn-out process that led to the couple’s impending divorce.
They had wed while he was still in college. After graduation he joined a trading firm that specialized in machinery, and the couple was blessed with two children and three grandchildren.
Upon retiring two years earlier, he used his retirement bonus from the company to pay off the balance of the home mortgage. In addition to about 200,000 yen a month in social security, his wife also earns income from her work at a beauty salon, so the two were financially comfortable.
And in his mind at least, he felt happy and satisfied with their married life. They hardly ever engaged in a heated quarrel.
His wife looked and acted her age, which is to say she was not the type to seek out the company of a younger man.
So then what was it that spurred her to ask for a divorce? Mr A is clueless.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, divorces peaked in 2002, and have been declining gradually since then. However, the number of breakups is still significant—about 250,000 couples in 2010, out of 670,000 marriages. But looking at divorces broken down by age, one can see that divorces by couples age 50 and over have doubled over the previous 10 years.
“I suppose the main reason why silver divorces are on the increase is that people are living longer,” says human rights attorney Asae Shiina, author of “Rikon, Saikon to Kodomo” (Divorce, Remarriage and Children) and numerous other titles. “Women’s sense of independence increases and they want to enjoy freedom without being tied down to one man. Perhaps they desire to place greater importance on how they spend their remaining years.”
Each month, Shiina’s own law office has been swamped with divorce consultations. About 90% of these requests are initiated by wives, whose complaints run the gamut of everything from the husband’s marital infidelity and illegitimate offspring to daily occurrences of domestic violence, disagreements over property inheritance and not being able to put up with the husband’s progressive senility.
In Japan, about 90% of divorces are concluded through negotiated settlements (in accordance with Article 763 of the Civil Code), but more complicated cases may progress to court-sposored mediation, arbitration and in worst cases, divorce by court decision. In the case of the latter, about two years are required to obtain a ruling.
“In one case I undertook, it took 10 years to get a ruling,” attorney Shiina recalls. “Among silver divorces, I handled one where the husband was 85 and the wife was 86.”
Among cases that wind up in court, efforts at arbitration had usually failed because of the disputing sides’ refusal to come to an agreement on financial matters—such as the size of alimony award or disputes about dividing up property.