Is Divorce Traumatic for Adult Children?

Because of empty nest syndrome, an increased desire for happiness, and a host of other factors, many older couples are getting divorced. Gray (or late-life) divorce refers to the dissolution of marriage involving a couple who is 50 years old (or older). In the last decade, the number of gray divorces has steadily increased, and today, one in four divorces in the U.S. is a gray divorce.

Divorce, of any kind, affects more than just the couple; friends and family members may also grieve the end of your relationship. Gray divorces that involve adult children can also deeply affect those children. In this article, we will discuss the effects of gray divorce on adult children and how you can help your adult kids cope with your divorce.

The Impact of Gray Divorce on Adult Children

While many parents worry about how their divorce can affect their younger children, adult children can also be emotionally and mentally affected by their parent’s divorce. Young adults

Here are some of the ways in which adults can be affected by parental, late-life divorce.

  • Loss of financial support. Younger adult children may still be in college and may have relied upon financial support from their parents. Because of your gray divorce, they may lose that financial support. Legally, neither parent will be required to pay child support as Texas ends child support, in most cases, once the child turns 18 or graduates high school; in cases where your adult child is disabled, the court may order a parent to support them for an indefinite period (Texas Family Code § 154.001).
  • Feeling torn. Adult children may struggle with placing blame and feeling torn concerning whose side they should be on, which can cause them to isolate themselves or distance themselves from their parents. Those who struggle with boundary setting may also struggle to maintain relationships with either parent if they feel pressured by them to choose sides.
  • Memories rewritten. Because of their parents’ gray divorce, adult children may feel like their childhood memories are lies, especially memories of you all together or with the family.
  • Struggles with interpersonal and/or romantic relationships. Adult children may develop a negative outlook on romance and relationships, and after learning of your divorce, this attitude may affect their current relationships. Depending on the circumstances of your divorce, they may also become less trusting or be affected in other ways. For instance, if infidelity is the reason for your divorce, they may fear infidelity in their own relationships.

How Do Adult Children Cope with Divorce?

Every person and situation is unique, and how your adult child copes with your divorce depends on a host of circumstances, including but not limited to how they perceive your relationship, how long you have been married, and whether the news feels sudden. If you have adult children and are (or will be) involved in a gray divorce, you may be wondering how they will cope and if you can help them navigate their feelings surrounding your divorce. As their parent, the best thing you can do is honor their feelings and encourage them to find healthy ways to express them.

While you may be happy or excited about your divorce and your next chapter, they likely may feel sad or angry or overwhelmed. If they are struggling, take steps to set boundaries or limits with them concerning what they want to know about your divorce, and while you are allowed to be happy, be considerate of their feelings. To help them cope with your gray divorce, you can also encourage them to:

  • Consider therapy. Whether they try group therapy/support group or individual therapy, they can benefit from processing their emotions with other people or a professional.
  • Practice self-care. Engaging in self-care can help people manage their stress and improve their mental health. Your adult child may also benefit from self-care as it reminds them to prioritize themselves; while they may be worried about you and how you’re handling the transition, they also need to care about themselves.
  • Ask questions. The worst way to try to handle your divorce is to avoid talking about it or asking questions. Encourage them to ask questions (with respect to your boundaries); they should also ask themselves questions and do introspection to better determine why they are struggling with your divorce.
  • Honor their emotions. Instead of burying, ignoring, or lying about their emotions, you can encourage your child to feel and respect their emotions (regardless of yours).
  • Find healthy emotional outlets. If your child is struggling with how to process their emotions, push them to try new activities that may be an outlet.

How to Tell Your Adult Kids About Your Divorce

If you and your partner are filing or have filed for divorce, you should have a plan for how and when you tell your children. When possible, you should plan to tell them together and in person instead of over the phone or on a call. If you do not plan to tell them together, you should discuss what you plan to share and act as a united front. Here are some additional tips and considerations for sharing the news of your divorce with your adult children.

  • Avoid fighting in front of them. Children, even those who are adults, may feel like they have to choose sides or may isolate if their parents fight in front of them or involve them in fights.
  • Honor their feelings and boundaries. We have mentioned this tip before, but it deserves to be reiterated. Ignoring or belittling your child’s feelings can cause them to withdraw or engage in unhealthy coping strategies. For instance, saying, “I’m the one getting divorced so buck up,” “This is good news,” or “You’re overreacting” will not help them process their emotions. Respecting their boundaries, once they share them, is also important.
  • Consider their age. Children of different ages can react differently and will be affected differently. Adult children who are still on the younger side can be affected differently than older adults. While adult children of any age will be affected by the sale of their childhood home, adult children who are still in college may worry about how they will spend holidays or school breaks. As we mentioned, adults who still receive financial support may also need help making a financial plan.
  • Avoid focusing on or highlighting the negatives. You can be honest about the circumstances of the divorce, your feelings, and the situation, but regardless of your feelings, you should not disparage the other parent or focus on the negatives. They may feel like they have to choose sides or struggle (even more) with their familial memories or relationships.
  • Don’t force them to choose sides. Your child may not want to choose sides, and you risk losing your relationship or alienating them. Avoid asking them to act as an intermediary as well.
  • Clarify what will and won’t change. While you may still be ironing out the details/terms of your divorce in court or mediation, explain as best you can what they should anticipate happening in the coming months. If holidays will be split, your home will be sold, or anything else that affects them is changing, they should have a clear understanding of how your divorce will affect them practically.

Get Legal Help with Your Gray Divorce

With over 35 years of collective experience, the attorneys at The Clark Law Firm are committed to helping you protect your family and interests. If you are considering divorce or have been served papers, our firm is equipped to help you navigate your gray divorce. We handle uncontested and contested divorce cases, and our primary concern is making the process as easy on you as possible. Known for providing our clients with personalized, sound legal representation, we can support you throughout the entire process (i.e. before filing, in depositions, meetings, court hearings, etc.).

Learn more about our divorce and family law services by calling (817) 435-4970 or completing this online form. We look forward to hearing from you.


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