Divorce After 40 Years? Why Not?

The Rendells' split isn't that shocking—but not for the reasons you think

The news that Ed and Midge Rendell sent an e-mail to close friends announcing their separation after nearly 40 years of marriage was met with gasps of shock and whispers of scandal. A federal judge, Midge is highly respected in her profession, and besides being a former governor and Philadelphia mayor, “Fast Eddie” is a talk-show host, lawyer, sports commentator, speaker, and heaven knows what else. The governor is a good-looking, charismatic man who likes to flirt with the ladies. Since he started his career as a district attorney, there have been rumors connecting him with beautiful, younger women. So of course, there is much speculation about their split. But no one has ever been able to embarrass him as they have the former governors of New York, New Jersey and North Carolina. So was it years of infidelity that led the judge to leave him? Or was it just time after so many years?

Most likely, the split comes down to the simple fact that 40 years is a long time to be married to the same person. “Gray divorce” is becoming a popular term as more and more boomer couples file for divorce later in life, after decades of marriage. People tend to grow apart over that much time and develop their own interests. When a couple such as the Rendells, or Al and Tipper Gore, are both developing their own careers and living apart, it is difficult to maintain the daily contact that most marriages require.

[SIGNUP]Now the governor is at a crossroad, about to embark on a brand-new career. He has been hired by a law firm in Philadelphia and will ostensibly work part-time as a lawyer, or at least bring in business for his firm. Additionally, he will have some kind of a show on MSNBC, perhaps (who knows) to replace recently departed Keith Olbermann. He will also continue to comment on sports—another great love of his—while also teaching and lecturing. Governor Rendell has never been shy about expressing his opinion. Meanwhile, Judge Rendell will continue to sit on the federal court and, as federal judges are wont to do, will keep her mouth shut while her soon-to-be ex-husband opens his. With the prospect of many more productive years ahead of them, why stay married to someone who has different interests, different friends and different goals?

The most interesting thing about this split is the respectful way they are going about it. It appears there will be no stone-throwing, no public hearings, no disclosure of agreements or properties divided, possibly no formal divorce at all. This seems to be a growing trend among older couples, too—separating but not divorcing. They live a single life, and while the former governor is free to date, he is saved from commitment by a convenient excuse: “Oh, gee, sorry I would love to marry you, honey, but my wife will never divorce me!”

For now at least this couple is setting a good example for gray divorcees. “Please do not hesitate to include both of us in social occasions as we will not find it awkward or uncomfortable,” said the e-mail that went on to say they would continue to remain friends and socialize together. Hopefully some couples will take a lesson from them.

Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin, chair of the family law practice group at Weber Gallagher, is ranked as a top divorce lawyer by Worth magazine. She is a former chair of the American Bar Association’s Family Law section.