updated 16 Apr 2013, 16:02
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Mon, Apr 01, 2013
The Star/ANN
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Going separate ways ... after 50
by Lisa Goh

MALAYSIA - The recent split between retail tycoon Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng and former Miss Malaysia Pauline Chai made headlines, not just because of the huge divorce settlement pending but also news that the former glamour couple, who have five grown children, are parting after 43 years of marriage,.

Chai, 66, filed a petition for divorce in London last month on grounds of "unreasonable behaviour", and according to the UK's The Times Law, British courts could award her up to RM2.375bil (£500mil, S$943 million), making it the largest in British divorce history.

Khoo, 74, is listed as number 36 on Forbes' Malaysia's 50 Richest.

Divorce between greying couples is no longer rare, although such splits often go unnoticed in Malaysia because the individuals are not high-profile personalities.

Take the case of retiree Mary Tan (not her real name) who decided to call it quits after 36 years of marriage.

Marriage for her has been a long and painful journey, but with her three children now grown up and financially independent, Tan says it is finally time to take care of herself.

"I was 23 when I got married 39 years ago to a former classmate. Even in our first year of marriage, I realised we were not compatible in so many ways. He was a businessman (then) and I was a school teacher, and we had such different views on things.

"We couldn't communicate much; we didn't even have the same interests. That was the first time I thought about getting a divorce but I decided not to pursue it as I didn't want to hurt my parents," says Tan, 62.

Two years after the marriage, she had her first son, and later, two more children - a boy and a girl.

"It wasn't easy. We had totally different ideas on raising children and handling money. He likes to spend, I like to save; he loved spoiling the children, I believed in disciplining them.

"After the children came, I put their interest first - I wanted them to have a complete family. I didn't want them to end up with a broken family and because of that, I decided I didn't want a divorce any more."

But when her youngest child was five, her husband's business, and their marriage, hit rock bottom - her husband had picked up gambling.

"We were rich, you know ... he was doing well in his import-export business. But he was addicted to betting on horse races and football matches, and he even borrowed money from Ah Long (loan sharks).

"We lost everything - our house, car, every­thing. We had nothing left. At that point, I thought of leaving him again. But he begged me for a second chance, and for our children's sake, I agreed. We started from scratch," she says.

But it was not the end. Five years later, her husband's gambling addiction resurfaced, and again the family lost everything they had. Again, he begged for another chance, and Tan stayed on.

"By then, his own family had given up on him, but I gave him one last chance. Five years later, he was back to gambling again. It was like he was on a five-year cycle. This time, I told him to just disappear and not to come looking for us. He disappeared and we were unofficially separated."

That was in 2003.

In 2010, after putting all her children through university, Tan thought it was finally time to make a clean break.

"In total, he gambled away millions (of ringgit). Our family suffered so much. We were constantly chased and threatened by the Ah Long. We had to keep moving homes when the children were growing up.

"I needed to get peace of mind and my freedom back," she says.

So at the age of 59, she filed for a divorce.

And Tan is not the only one.

According to family lawyer Andy Low, Tan is part of a growing group of people past the age of 50 who are divorced.

"We don't particularly keep track of our clients' ages, but on average, one or two out of every 10 clients we have (who want a divorce) are 50 and above. We handled about 300 divorce cases last year ... up to 60 cases were from those who were above 50.

"We're definitely seeing more of such cases today compared with 10 or 20 years ago," he says.

But what are the factors contributing to the baby boomer break-ups?

"The biggest trigger factor is extramarital affairs. Many couples will also cite irreconci­lable differences," he says.

Dr Johnben Loy, founder and clinical director of Rekindle International Marriage and Family Therapy Center, agrees.

Dr Loy, a marriage and family therapist, says most of his clients are between the ages of 30 and 50, but he does have some clients who are in their 50s and 60s.

"People in this age group ... when it comes to the men, a lot of it is (due to) extramarital affairs. That's quite typical. But in the 50-plus group, you also have some pretty strong women (who either have their own businesses or are professionals). With them, the complaint is mostly that they're tired and frustrated.

"Some of these women feel like they've been slaves to their husbands all their lives. Now that their children are all grown, it's more 'I'm not putting up with this any more. If you don't get your act together, and give me the love and respect that I deserve, to hell with you. I don't need you any more,'" he says.

Dr Loy also finds that many couples "compartmentalise their life".

"I hear a lot of such cases where once they have children, they give everything up for their children. It turns into a 'checklist marriage', where it's just 'do this, do that'. When catastrophe hits, they suddenly realise that their bond is not strong.

"One day they wake up and realise, 'The kids are gone, and there's really nothing much between you and me to share any more.' Depending on the person, sometimes it (the bond or relationship) can be rekindled. But if there's too much frustration, too much junk that has been accumulated over the years, then it's too overwhelming, and they decide it's easier to just call it off," he says.

Similar trends have been observed in the United States.

An article titled "The Gray Divorces" by the Wall Street Journal reports that the divorce rate among people age 50 and older in the US "has doubled over the past two decades". It cites a new research by sociologists Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin of Bowling Green State University, and their paper, "The Gray Divorce Revolution".

Brown is quoted as saying that although the overall national divorce rates have declined since spiking in the 1980s, "gray divorce" has risen to its highest level on record.

"In 1990, only one in 10 people who got divorced was 50 or older; by 2009, the number was roughly one in four. More than 600,000 people age 50 and older got divorced in 2009," the article said.

Data is a little harder to come by in Malaysia.

A check with the National Registration Department (NRD) found 5,634 (non-Muslim) divorces registered with the department in 2011, but a breakdown according to age group is not available.

It was previously reported that Malaysia has seen a steady increase in the number of divorces over a 10-year period, with over 33,000 couples splitting up in 2010.

According to the Malaysian Quality of Life (MQLI) 2011 report, 0.22 per cent of Malaysians between the ages of 18 and 50 (in 2010) are divorced, almost double the 0.13 per cent recorded in 2000, and 0.14 per cent in 1990. There were no figures available on the divorce cases for those above the age of 50.

What are the problems that surround a divorce after 50?

While getting a divorce later in life tends to do away with the issues of child custody (children are usually adults by then), it can get a little messy on the topic of assets, as a couple in their 50s would have had more time to accumulate more wealth, says Low.

What advice is there for couples who are in trouble?

Rev Dr Yu Chee Huat, a Methodist pastor for over 38 years, has this to share.

"Stir up the first love you had for each other, remember why you fell in love with each other in the first place.

"You need to communicate. After being married for 34 years, sometimes I take it for granted that my wife knows what I'm thinking, but she'll tell me 'I can't read your mind, you know.' Share your joys and concerns, communicate as much as you can. Be sincere and honest with each other," says Yu, who has seen countless couples struggle in their marriage.

He adds that very often, couples take each other for granted, which can lead to a lot of frustration.

"Now that my two children are grown up, my wife and I take time to 'date'. At least once a week, we go out (just the two of us) and have dinner and coffee. We talk and laugh, and just enjoy each other's company and enrich the bond that we share. Love each other a lot. Forgive each other a lot," Yu says.

Dr Loy adds: "For the husbands, think about what it is like for your wives, for them to have gone through all that they have ... try to see it from their point of view. If you've never managed the home before, try doing it for two weeks without any help. Think about all the years that you've lived together, and how much you value that in your life today.

"For the wives who want to leave, your husband did not become the person he is overnight. He's been in that role for a while now, and in a way, both of you have contributed to making him who he is. If he's willing to change, give him time. At the same time, respect yourself and your need to voice out what's important to you."

Tan's divorce finalised early last year, bringing with it closure after decades of struggle in her marriage.

"People who aren't in it won't understand. They ask me, 'Why bother doing it now, after so many years when your struggles are over?'

"I did it for me. And I'm happier now," she says.

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readers' comments

I have different view on this. I thought it is a waste of time to start your life all over again after 50. How many years more can that person live? OK, maybe 30 years. Being a couple for many years does not come easy and I always thought that old couple should spend more time with each other during their golden years after their kids grown up. Be happy and contented, maybe I am wrong. I find it wasted lor, when you can be happy to be alone with your spouse, and then you choose to leave her/him, which, to me creating unnecessary problem for yourselves. :)
Posted by Emily Elizabeth on Fri, 5 Apr 2013 at 08:49 AM

Some couples not in good terms probably due to lazy, nvr take care the children n see money more impt than family.
Posted by hfourhappy on Fri, 5 Apr 2013 at 08:22 AM
When I retire, I plan to go off somewhere travelling and enjoy on my own without the wife. Peace and quiet.
I will return after a short period of relaxing break and start on retirement hobby or activities with her.

Usually, couples who breakup after 50 are those who only stayed together in earlier years for the kids. After the kids have established themselves or setup homes, they perhaps do not see anything worth staying together for anymore. If not for the kids, perhaps they would have divorced earlier.

Posted by tlukay59 on Fri, 5 Apr 2013 at 08:17 AM
I don't believe in separating after 50. If a couple could no longer tolerate each other, it is time to call it off. If you really couldn't live with him , how to be with him so long. Unless he is unfaithful, otherwise, I think matter still can be solved. After 50 should be a time for couple to relax and do things together which they do not have find to do due to kids being small n need a lot of attention. Unless you married late, then that will be another issue.
Posted by Emily Elizabeth on Fri, 5 Apr 2013 at 06:46 AM
rich doesnt mean happiness.....
Posted by dinofande on Fri, 5 Apr 2013 at 05:25 AM
I got see old ah peks shouting at aunties before.. Maybe that's why loh. When we 18+ you guys treat us like Angel, when we 50+ you guys treat us like toilet bowls. : P

I think the guy should ask himself "Will I still love her, and make her happy when shes 50?" before bringing her into his world.
Posted by mikuhatsune on Thu, 4 Apr 2013 at 19:55 PM
better go sexparate ways :D:p
Posted by baoxingtian on Thu, 4 Apr 2013 at 18:03 PM
To look for 第二春!
Posted by maipenrai on Thu, 4 Apr 2013 at 16:31 PM
Till death do us apart ...
Posted by mystrawberry on Thu, 4 Apr 2013 at 16:29 PM

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