Family Law

How Does a Remarriage After Divorce Affect Adult Children Emotionally?

By Lina Guillen, Attorney
Adult children may experience many of the same feelings as younger children when you bring a new spouse. Find out more about bringing a new spouse into the family dynamic.

Empty nest divorce is on the rise. Year after year, there has been a continued increase in the number of older couples filing for divorce after their adult children leave the nest. As a natural result, these divorced parents are also remarrying later in life.

While it's a wonderful thing to find love after a divorce, introducing a new spouse may affect your adult children and the family dynamic. Just because your children are over 18, doesn't guarantee that they won't have a strong emotional reaction to your new spouse.

Loyalty to Birth Parents

When a divorce happens later in life, and both parents have formed healthy bonds with their children, adult children will naturally feel a strong loyalty to their birth parents. A new spouse will challenge that bond, and the adult child may feel that welcoming a stranger or "replacement" is tantamount to a betrayal. Even more so if the new spouse was involved in an adulterous affair that caused the divorce.

There is not much you can do to convince your adult child to accept your new spouse, so give your child the time and space necessary to process the situation. If you and your ex are on good terms, you may consider a few sessions of family therapy with the adult children as a vehicle for talking about the new spouse and how best to include this new person into the family.

Rights of New Partners and Children

Adult children may view their parent's choice to remarry as a rejection of their own role in the parent's life. And if you plan to have children with your new spouse—or your new spouse also has children—that will bring up a whole host of other emotions from your kids, possibly about being replaced or forgotten. Do your best to reassure your children that your love and dedication remains the same.

Your child may also worry that your new family will begin to control your health, medical, and financial decisions. If you don't plan ahead with a prenuptial agreement, a will, and/or medical directives, remarriage will give your new spouse legal rights to receive your estate and make decisions regarding your medical care. You may want to speak to an estate planning attorney and/or family law attorney to ensure that your remarriage doesn't negatively impact your adult children financially.

Holidays, Birthdays, and Special Events

Just because you adore your new spouse, doesn't mean your adult children—or grandchildren—will feel the same way. It's best to take things slowly, and avoid forcing your new partner on your family. Think carefully before bringing your new spouse to your children's special occasions (such as graduations, birthday parties, and Holidays) until you've cleared it with your kids.

Since these events were shared among you, your ex, and your children for many years, change may be very difficult to accept, and your adult children may resist and feel resentful. The best way to handle it is to communicate with your children and find out what they're comfortable with.

If your children have already met and like your new spouse, this may not be an issue. But if they haven't been introduced yet, or they aren't very close, showing up with your new spouse to an event that's supposed to be about your child may backfire. This isn't the most appropriate time to make introductions as it takes the attention away from the reason for the celebration and may make everyone uncomfortable.

Grandparent Status

If you're already a grandparent when you remarry, then you will also need to consider your grandchild's feelings about a new spouse. You should talk with the adult child first to find out how best to raise the subject to your grandchild and when and how to make the introduction.

Young children are surprisingly aware of family dynamics and also feel loyalty to their grandparents. Be available to answer questions, but always check in with your child first before sharing too much with your grandchildren. Never try to persuade or pressure your grandchild to accept the new partner—you will need to let this happen on its own. The more the family is exposed to your spouse, the more opportunities there will be for bonding.

The bottom line is that bringing in a new spouse into the family will be an adjustment for everyone. Take it slow and respond to your children's feelings, especially when introducing young children. If you need help, consider speaking to a co-parenting counselor or marriage and family therapist. There are also many books about blended families and how to help step families adjust that my be helpful.

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