The Impact of Divorce on Adult Children

Divorcing mother attempts to communicate with her adult daughter. Concept for adult children of divorce.

When couples wait to get divorced “for the children” it sets the family up for a gray divorce, and forces their now-adult children to deal with a family divided. The impact on adult children of divorce or A.C.O.D. should not be underestimated or ignored. Understanding how your adult children feel about your divorce is just as important for you, and them, as it is for younger kids still in your care.

Adult Children of Divorce: No-Longer-Kids Caught in the Middle

One thing every experienced divorce attorney will tell you is to try to keep your children out of the divorce. Don’t fight around them, don’t ask them to pass messages for you, and don’t make them choose sides. But somehow, that message seems to stop when kids turn 18. Adult children often find themselves caught in the middle between divorcing parents. They may be:

  • Called to testify about a parent’s behavior
  • Treated as a confidant by a divorcing parent attacking their soon-to-be-ex-spouse
  • Burdened with unwanted, unnecessary personal details
  • Placed in a position of having to support their newly separated parents (including allowing one to move in with them)
  • Informed of divorce only after the legal action is over

When adult children are told that their parents’ divorce was “a long time in coming” or put off “for the children” they may feel as though their parents’ ongoing conflict was their fault. They may even ask if the life they remembered growing up was true at all.

Adult Children of Divorce Suffer a Loss of Home and Tradition

At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our divorce attorneys know how hard it can be to talk to your children about divorce, even once they’re adults. We can help you plan when and how the initial divorce conversation happens, and respond to your adult children’s concerns.

Often, when spouses get divorced, they may sell their marital home and divide up long-owned furniture, art, and heirloom items. But that property is more than just a building, it is also the childhood home of adult children of divorce. The loss of this gathering place can make adult children feel abandoned and unmoored, with no place to go home to.

In amicable or collaborative divorce settings, where spouses work through their own feelings as part of the process, adult children often are not included until near the end of the process. This can leave them feeling that their own emotions are confusing, and hard to address, especially when one or both parents has already moved on to a new relationship. The loss of a person’s “first family” can be especially hard to process. As the adult children of divorce, these loved ones may not be as excited as their parents about a new romance or dating partner.

Divorce can also put strain on the relationships of adult children. As they deal with their own grief and loss, they may question their ability to maintain long-term relationships. Problems in their own partnerships may come to light or be exasperated by their feelings around divorce. They may also try to be supportive at the expense of their own household’s needs. All of this can threaten to further destabilize adult children’s lives.

College-Age Children Face Loss of Support During Divorce

When divorce happens as soon as the kids leave the nest, it can present particular stress for the college-age children of divorcing parents. In Maryland, child support generally ends when a child turns 18, or graduates from high school (if living at home). Divorcing parties can agree to divide college expenses, but nothing in the law says that divorcing parents must pay to support their college-age children.

With budgets stretched thin between two households and legal expenses, some college students may find support from parents hard to come by. This can create financial problems for students relying on their parents for tuition or living expenses. In addition, college students generally must disclose financial information from both parents when applying for student loans and need-based scholarships. When their parents are going through a high-conflict divorce, even getting those forms filled out can be difficult and emotionally taxing.

Gray Divorces Raise Questions About Grandparenting Relationships

When spouses get divorced near retirement age, it is often called “gray divorce.” In the legal world, gray divorce often focuses on the correct distribution of Social Security benefits and retirement and pension payouts. It might also involve negotiating a fair alimony award for a long-time homemaker. One topic that seldom shows up in the courtroom is how a gray divorce will affect the extended family.

Grandparents play a key role in many families’ lives. Whether they host holiday gatherings or provide regular childcare, grandparents are often a part of their adult children’s lives long after they have families of their own. Negotiating a new family dynamic around these events can be difficult. It may require frank and frequent conversations between the now-divorced spouses, their adult children, and their sons- and daughters-in-law about how extended family involvement will look going forward.

How to Reduce the Impact of Divorce on Adult Children

Parents don’t stop loving their children when they move away from home. If you are a divorcing parent, or an adult child of divorce, there are some things you can do to reduce the impact of that proceeding on you and your family:

  • Have an in-person family meeting to address holidays, traditions, and family expectations
  • Let (or insist on) adult children be neutral actors, not brought into divorce proceedings on either side
  • Avoid (or set a boundary against) bad-mouthing the other parent to adult children, in-laws, or grandchildren
  • Talk about the emotional impacts of divorce with adult children as well as minor children, and give them space to process their emotions
  • Avoid language that blames years of discord and conflict on the adult children

At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our divorce attorneys know how hard it can be to talk to your children about divorce, even once they’re adults. We can help you plan when and how the initial divorce conversation happens, and respond to your adult children’s concerns. Call (301) 658-7354 or contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our Maryland attorneys.

Categories: Divorce