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Love and complications when senior moms and dads take second shot at romance
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When a colleague wanted to introduce Judy Garner and Richard Scott, who'd both recently been widowed, his age 17 years her senior seemed like a big deal. But Garner was lonely and after some cajoling by her friend, she decided going to dinner would be OK. Who couldnt use a friend?

On their second date, they decided to marry.

Their kids, all grown, were alarmed. Judy and Richard had each called their own children she has seven and he has six and in less than two days, two of Judys daughters were on planes to rescue their mother from herself and the fianc shed barely met.

The couple held firm. It was 2004 and each had lost not just a spouse, but companionship and a sense of purpose.

They laugh today as they describe the furor their impending nuptials unleashed. We received phone calls and letters warning us of impending disaster if we continued in our idiotic plan, said Richard, now 87, of angst on both sides that initially included a hastily drawn prenuptial agreement, a kids-only family meeting and more. But after 11 years, we now have full acceptance by both of our families, who can see how happy and complete we are as a couple and as a family.

That's not true for all couples who marry at a later age. Tales of senior matrimony are sometimes peppered with accounts of adult children disowning their parents or being cut off by a new step-parent; families wrangling over property, money and sentimental items, often while a parent is alive; kids who wont accept the new spouse or spouses who refuse to deal with their new mates grown kids. There are sometimes grumblings about competency and undue influence and more than a few late-life pairings have increased the domestic court workload as grown kids wrangle about their elderly parents choices.

Asked about the later-life marriages of those who have kids, Joshua Coleman, a San Francisco-area psychologist, offers an understated truth: The potential for family conflicts in these unions is fairly high, he said mildly.

Lawrence Ganong uses a more stark analogy to describe disagreements and hurt feelings that can arise: Its sometimes similar to war, horrifying but interesting. The professor and co-chairman of human development and family science at the University of Missouri has heard of families that nearly come to blows over whether remarriage will change who gets grandmas chair or a set of cracked dishes that have been in the cupboard for a long time. People will argue about all kinds of things.

In a blog post on remarriage, family counselor, talk show host and author Laura Schlessinger reminds adult children that parents dont need their permission to remarry, but they would probably like your support. Being negative wont stop the marriage, and it will only create bad feelings between you and your parent.

More complex the second time?

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 800,000 Americans are widowed each year, the majority of them over 65. Meanwhile, it is among older Americans that divorce continues to grow. Together, those groups create a large population of seniors who could potentially head to the altar. Pew Research Center says half of previously married single adults over age 65 remarry.

The term "second marriage" doesn't automatically conjure pictures of senior citizens; people are more often familiar with remarriage in younger families. While the issues are often quite different when the bride and groom are older, that doesn't make it any less complex.

Speaking of older couples, psychologist Coleman said many adult children strongly feel their parent should never remarry. Its a tangle of loyalties, especially in divorce if only one parent remarries, or in cases where a parent has died. Research clearly shows a parents remarriage is harder on young children emotionally than divorce was; some researchers believe that may be true for adult children, too, he said.

Two adult children in one family dont necessarily react the same, Coleman warns. One may feel relief, another jealousy on their own behalf or for the parent who has been replaced, whether dead or divorced. Some see new marriage as disloyal.

Issues not especially relevant to young families, like inheritance, who has a right to speak for the individual in health crisis, loneliness and caregiving may be major for older couples picking their way through a remarriage.

The issues are complicated enough that Kiplinger, which publishes personal and business financial advice and forecasts, last year reported a large increase in the number of adults 50 and older who choose to cohabitate rather than marry: from 1.2 million in 2000 to 2.75 million in 2010. Those complications are believed to be among the reasons. Its also a fact that many old couples choose not to marry to hang onto benefits like pensions, Social Security or alimony.

In Europe, increasingly, older couples avoid some of the complex issues by embracing what sociologists call Living Apart Together. Ganong said romantically committed couples live in their own residences, though they "see themselves as a couple. Among other things, it avoids their children freaking out, he noted. The house is still there. Grandmas craft dishes are still there. Theres no obligation in terms of financial support. Nor is there obligation for caregiving.

Judy and Richard Scott never considered cohabitating. Their attraction included a mutual belief in marriage.

Richard had been married 50 years, Judy for 38. Richard had cared for his wife Lavon throughout her long journey with Alzheimers disease. Charles Garner had gone more quickly, felled by unexpected and aggressive lung cancer, though he'd never smoked. Each considered their departed spouse the love of their life, but neither wanted to be lonely or endlessly sad. They wanted to be part of an us again, not me.

Both credit their willingness to remarry to their first spouses; it reflects that their previous marriages were happy. They had to adjust a bit to each other's way of doing things, though. We keep talking, said Judy, now 70. Adds Richard, We talk it over no matter what it is and we resolve it.

Making it work

Experts offer plenty of advice on making later-life marriage work. Some suggest each partner sign a prenuptial agreement that lays out who is going to get what, including life insurance benefits, to allay concerns of relatives. They say premarital counseling is valuable for older couples, particularly because it helps sort out financial issues objectively.

Many couples settle the who-gets-what issue with wills so a house one spouse owned first will be used by the surviving spouse as long as he or she is alive, then it passes to the heirs who would have inherited it had the second marriage not occurred.

"A prenuptial agreement was strongly suggested by some family members. Neither of us seriously considered the need for it," Richard said. "We still feel the same way."

Richard had already given his children many of the things they would have inherited. After Lavons funeral, he gave his oldest daughter, Sharon Hale, her moms wedding ring, for example, while one of her brothers received the Waterford dinner glasses hed gotten his mother while serving a church mission to England.

Judy was very open and forthright to Richard's children on the issue of who would get what. I love your dad and want to spend my time here on earth with him, but everything that you would normally get is yours, Jody Panter, Judy's daughter, recalled her mother saying.

The early generosity had a downside. In the back of Hale's mind, though she was grateful and understood, it seemed like her dad was moving too fast to dismantle the life her parents had built together. We just wanted him to hold still for a minute and not disassemble his house," she said. "I think it was just, hed been grieving for so long, so he had done his grieving.

When housing and assets might be contested, Kiplinger's guide to remarriage recommends videotaping what the two older adults have agreed to. It spells out their wishes and the video lets one see they are competent and clear as they explain their wishes.

Aging well

Studies have shown that older married couples are generally happier than unmarried peers, have better health and live longer.

Ganong said older men tend to be more open to getting married again than are older women, partly because they have taken care of a dying or frail husband and dont want to do this caregiving thing again. But when people do it, its a real positive thing I think kids should welcome.

There can be a lot of relief that mom or dad is remarrying, even if there are worries about financial resources," Coleman said. It can take off the pressure to provide care or entertain a parent, to fend off loneliness.

Judy's younger age may prove to be a plus, though both are healthy and very active now. Ganong said if older couples both become frail, family strife sometimes emerges. He describes children who intervene, even splitting couples up to provide care. One family of children may haul dad back to Utah to care for him, while his wifes kids take her to Kansas. Or an adult child sues to assume power of attorney to make decisions.

It can get really ugly in those situations. I dont know if people are quite prepared for it, particularly the older couple, he said.

He said its important to talk about what-ifs early on, even before the marriage. "What if one of us needs to go into a nursing home or one of us needs regular in-home care? Whos going to do this and whos going to pay? What roles will the children and grandchildren have?"

Before they found each other, Judys and Richards kids saw themselves as more responsible for their widowed parents' well-being. One of Richards sons carved a spot in his hectic schedule to go for weekly motorcycle rides, while a daughter had a weekly dinner. Those have eased off since the marriage. Judys children talked about what kind of financial help they could give her if she needed it, since her husband's illness had been devastating. Both families felt responsible for their parent in ways that no longer seem relevant.

Assuming new roles

Families in older marriages arent expected to blend like young families, where kids live at home and step-siblings have to find some equilibrium. The entry of the Scotts' condominium boasts two pictures on opposite walls: Richards family on one side, Judys on the other. Reality is like that, too. Their kids exchange Christmas cards and when they happen to be around each other, they are cordial, but theyd never describe themselves as step-brothers and step-sisters, said Panter. Still, when we've gotten together, its very comfortable.

They all want their parents to be happy. That Richard and Judy are happy has eased a lot of worries, Panter and Hale agree.

It's different, one generation removed. The Scotts are dedicated to being good and involved grandparents to their more than 50 grandchildren. It seems every few days Judy reaches into the stack of cards she keeps to find the right one, with the right message. They visit their kids and grandkids, mostly together, but separately if they cant get their schedules to mesh. The one odd note was an adjustment Judys older grandchildren had to make. It seemed strange, said Panter, when Grandma Garner became Grandma Scott.

The older grandchildren remember their Grandpa Garner, Panter said. But all of them have welcomed and adore Grandpa Scott. Theres no distinguishing between grandpa and step-grandpa. He has been a miracle to my family, after the initial shock, especially for our children. Theyve gotten really close to him."

She pauses a moment: I love him as if I were born into his family. He is just a second dad I was blessed with. Some are blessed with one amazing father; I was blessed with two.
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