The petition for divorce filed in 2018 in San Antonio by former FBI director William Sessions and Alice Sessions, his wife of 67 years, made news around the state earlier this year at the discovery of their secret filing (initials were used).
On the surface of the media reports, it seemed like an extreme case of “Grey Divorce” with the 89-year-old husband and an 88-year-old wife. The petition went through the courts for 16 months before the media discovered whose initials were on the filing.
The case complicated because William Sessions suffers from several health issues (the wife says it includes dementia, though one son denies it). He moved to a care facility in 2017 in San Antonio, and Alice Sessions stayed in Washington, DC, and claims she does not want a divorce, despite living apart; a news report claims that the couple have now withdrawn the petition and have resolved their dispute.
Control is an issue
This is an extreme case, but the split highlights some issues that families face when parents are at an advanced age. At the heart of the matter is control of the estate.
According to the mother, the family’s three sons, all in their 60s, are reportedly pushing for the divorce in order to gain access to their parents’ estate, which is said to include several million dollars. The sons claim that they are taking care of their father and would not do so if they were trying to get his money.
These are common issues
The Sessions family are a high-profile example of the following issues facing older couples who divorce and how families handle them:
- Competency: It smart to check with a gerontologist or geriatric psychiatrist who can determine if there is long-term alcoholism, hormonal imbalance, cancer, improper medication, or natural aging that could affect the ability to make informed decisions.
- Financial imbalance: One partner may have never worked outside the house and thus did not earn meaningful social security. Rights to community property likely would be substantial, but divorce could lead to a significantlyreduced standard of living for the non-wage-earning spouse.
- Running the estate: One spouse may have handled all the details of running the estate, such as paying the bills, as well as handling investments, insurance policies, retirement plans, and bank account access (one area in dispute for the Sessions). It is helpful if both spouses have a working knowledge of these matters, and both names are on those assets.
- Family chemistry: Alice was a controversial “power behind the throne” figure during her husband’s career, which abruptly switched to the private sector halfway through a 10-year term as head of the FBI because of their flagrant use of government funds and property for personal gain. These strong personalities could heighten discord during the aging process.
A unique challenge
Such complications involved in the divorce of elderly couples can be challenging for families, particularly when there are disputes. An experienced Board-certified Family Law expert attorney in Collin County, Dallas County, Denton County, Tarrant County, Midland County, Ector County, or elsewhere throughout Texas, can be a tremendous asset in helping families resolve these issues fairly and equitably.