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AARP study explores late-term divorce

FARGO - A study sponsored by AARP that looked at divorce at midlife and beyond found that women initiated the splits far more often than men.

And the male half of the equation was often taken by surprise, a 2004 study found.

Changing attitudes about gender roles and greater financial independence among women may help explain the findings, according to Xenia Montenegro, research team leader for AARP.

"They (women) are more able to take care of themselves," Montenegro said, adding that of the 556 women and 581 men interviewed for the study, many said they stayed married longer than they otherwise would have out of concerns for their children's welfare.

Of study respondents who had children, 37 percent reported their kids were supportive, while 17 percent said their children were "OK" with the divorce.

Twenty percent said their children were somewhat upset and 18 percent said their children were very upset about the divorce.

Montenegro said 66 percent of the women surveyed indicated they had initiated their divorce, with abuse the most often cited reason.

For the purposes of the survey, Montenegro said abuse could range from verbal and physical abuse to a partner having been unfaithful.

She said that for both men and women surveyed, a sense of wanting something better with the years they had left was a major motivation for seeking a divorce.

"Let's say at age 50 they have 20, 30, maybe even 40 more years to live," Montenegro said.

"They don't want to stay in a relationship they're not happy in," she added. "They have this outlook where they can turn their lives around and look forward to other things outside of the rut they are in."

The study didn't attempt to measure whether divorce later in life is a growing trend, but Montenegro said she has evidence from elsewhere that indicates it is, citing the time she was asked to give a presentation to family court judges in New York.

"They are seeing more and more of this in their court and they wanted to understand it more," Montenegro said. "That was fascinating."

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