Family Law

How Does Divorce Affect Adult Children Emotionally?

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Understanding the effect of a late-life divorce on the adult children.

Divorce and Relationships

Sometimes divorce is inevitable, but no matter the circumstance, it will change the nature of your relationship with your children. The change may actually be for the better. With an empty nest divorce, the focus is usually on how an older spouse in a long marriage will adapt to a divorce, and the adult children are often forgotten. However adult children of divorce may struggle just as much as younger children, and in particular, may have issues figuring out their place in a split family. Moreover, divorce can bring to light an adult child’s insecurities with both parents and trust that a parent’s love is permanent.

If you’re an older parent contemplating divorce, be sure to find ways to reconnect with your adult children, both before and after divorce. Let your kids know that your love is stable, regardless of your relationship with the other parent. Don’t hesitate to seek family counseling if you notice your family is struggling with the divorce.

Divorce and Holidays

When children are young, a divorce decree will address where the kids will spend each holiday. As a parent, you have little say over where your adult children choose to spend their holidays. If your kids decide to spend every Thanksgiving at their father’s, there’s not much you can do about it other than invite them to spend next year with you.

The holidays can be an especially emotional time that highlights the impact of divorce. The best thing you can do for your children is to remain supportive of their choices. A child of divorce, whether very young or an adult, will feel the sting of having to choose between parents at times.

Divorce and Money

Money can be a divisive element in any family. Once a couple is divorced, one parent may use money to keep adult children close. For example, the wealthier parent may give lavish gifts, regular stipends, or help defray or pay for college costs. One parent may give gifts or financial assistance that would have previously come from both parents. This kind of behavior by one parent can isolate children and parents from each other. Whether or not it’s intentional, monetary gifts to an adult child may impact your parent-child relationship.

Most importantly, realize that even adult children aren’t immune from the impact of divorce. The unraveling of lives that comes with divorce will surely affect your children, whether they live out of the family home or not. If you realize this is normal, you’ll be better-equipped to weather the emotional storm that divorce often brings.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • My spouse and I delayed our divorce until our daughter started college. We want to get divorced this fall, but how will that affect our daughter's plans to come home for the holidays? Will we need to come up with a visitation schedule to plan where she can or should stay?
  • My spouse and I want to get divorced, but maintain a united front for our children. Is there anything we can do to minimize the emotional impact of divorce on our kids?
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