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Not too late? Divorce increasingly common among older couples

By Nairobian reporter | May 8th 2021

When an old couple divorces after living together for decades, many wonder what ‘beef’ the experienced couple couldn’t handle. 

Living together for more than a decade should mean that a couple has formed a strong bond.

However, according to relationship experts, splitting up later in life, sometimes called “gray divorce,” is not a strange thing. 

Take the recent announcement of divorce plans by Melinda Gates and Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates.

Bill and Melinda Gates announced their split early May.

Author of the book, Wired For Love,  Stan Tatkin, notes that gray divorces is not a sudden event that just happens, but it is triggered by something that is underlying.

“The marriage, in most cases, develops microcracks inside the structure you can’t see. Then it finally reaches a  breaking point and shatters,” he writes in his book. 

Closer home, three years ago, Uasin Gishu farmer Jackson Kibor filed divorce proceedings against his third wife, five months after he divorced his second.

Kibor, 87, divorced Naomi Jeptoo Kibor, whom he married 43 years ago.


Jackson Kibor.

Months earlier, Kibor convinced an Eldoret court to dissolve his marriage to his second wife, Josephine Jepkoech, with whom he had been for 52 years.

Kibor claimed Jeptoo left their matrimonial home, denying him conjugal rights and that she had not been supportive, was extremely hostile and intolerant.

He claimed Jeptoo had on numerous occasions plotted to kill him. Kibor has four wives, one of whom is deceased.

Another case is that of Meru Senator Mithika Linturi. The politician and his estranged partner Marianne Keitany have turned bitter enemies.

Keitany, a former Chief of Staff in the Office of the Deputy President William Ruto, wanted their union dissolved, citing cruelty, neglect, infidelity and desertion.

Keitany accused Linturi of, among other things, failing to provide her with any emotional support, love, affection, and care.

Few divorce cases in Kenya equals that of 1987 between the late ambassador Peter Echaria and his wife Priscilla Njeri Echaria, who died this month.

The Echarias married in Moscow, Russia in 1964, but divorced in Kenya where a precedent-setting ruling allowed women to get a share of the matrimonial property, including their 118-acre Twiga Hill Farm in Tigoni.

After parting ways with Njeri, Echaria married Dorothy Kanyiva, with whom he lived on one part of the farm after the High Court awarded Njeri 25 acres, down from the 58 acres she had demanded.

Echaria and Kanyiva later sued Njeri for taking over their matrimonial home with goods worth Sh7 million, including alcoholic drinks, a will, books, a Kanu certificate, gold jewelry, clothing, and dogs.

According to psychologist Faith Atsango, older people are likely to get divorced due to the ‘empty nest syndrome’.

She says many couples usually stay together so that they raise children in a family environment.

“In many situations, a woman or man will stay until the kids are of age, and then decided to leave the marriage. We can only speculate since we don’t know the real cause of the Gates divorce, but it’s also important to note that their last born is 18 years. Probably, there is nothing bringing the couple together anymore,” she says.

Atsango also notes that it is easier for high net worth individuals to separate since financial stress is not an issue.

“In a middle income family in case of separation, one party has to start life afresh, with a new home and new possessions. But with enough money, it’s easier for someone to just move on with their life.”

She states that in most marriages, property is acquired by both partners and a separation will definitely put financial strain on one of the partners, so divorce becomes difficult in such situation.

 Atsango further adds that boredom can lead to couple’s growing apart.

“Being around the same person 24/7 can lead to boredom. In some cases, the couple’s just stop trying and spicing things up. They work hard, play hard and neglect their partners. This is where most couples go wrong. They stop being the attentive, attractive spouse,” she adds.

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