Navigating Grey Divorce & Relating to Your Adult Children
No matter how old you get, your kids are always your kids. When a married couple with adult children gets divorced (commonly referred to as grey divorce), the situation is no less emotionally complicated than if they were still too young to vote.
Their parents’ divorce can affect adult children even more than adolescents or teens. Though they’re more emotionally mature to process the situation, that ability also comes with a greater capacity for self-blame and parent-shame.
Also, many adult children have more at stake these days in the stability of their parents’ relationships. One-third of young adults ages 18 to 34 live with their parents, according to the most recent U.S. census data. Mom’s and Dad’s divorce might throw their housing situation into question.
Your adult children look to you for cues about how to react to your divorce. We asked Sterk Family Law attorney Joan Van Oss for some tips about how to set a good example for adult children during your divorce. Van Oss also recommends divorcing couples be wary of adult children’s advice, which may be the product of hurt, anger and grief.
What is a Grey Divorce?
Grey divorce has become a common phrase to describe couples ages 50 and older that move forward with divorce proceedings. According to a 2015 Pew Research Report, the divorce rate among Baby Boomers has doubled within the last 25 years. Many couples in a grey divorce haven been married for a considerable amount of time and are within their first marriage.
Responding to Adult Children During Your Grey Divorce
When they say: Dad, I’m on your side. I’m not talking to Mom.
How you can react: Resist the urge to have adult children take sides in a divorce.
Both parties involved in a divorce feel wronged, hurt and abandoned, and it’s common for them to gather allies for support. If you are friends with your adult child, it can be tempting to encourage them to side with you or go along with their plans to reject the other parent.
The pain of divorce can foster this bad behavior, when people are feeling raw and bitter and even suffering from depression or anxiety, Van Oss said.
“No matter how old or young you are, it’s always about emotions,” she said. “People are filled with grief. They are grieving over the loss of their married life and grief can be a very powerful thing.”
It’s unscrupulous and manipulative to allow your adult child to alienate or punish their other parent out of a sense of loyalty to you. Even if you feel wronged by your ex-spouse, encourage your adult children to maintain their relationship.
When they say: I don’t think you should sell the house. Maybe you should hold onto it for now.
How you can react: Take their advice with a grain of salt and do what’s best for you.
People 50 and older who are getting divorced today feel the first hand effects of two significant trends that developed over the last decade. Adult children are living with their parents longer or may return after years away, sometimes with grandchildren in tow.
At the same time, as the ripple of the housing bubble continues, many older divorcing couples want to get free of underwater mortgages. Or maybe they got lucky, seeing their property value rise, and now they want to sell the home to have cash to start their new lives.
“The best decision might be to sell the home. It might have equity in it that the parties want to benefit from,” Van Oss said. “But the kid is living in the basement and they’re saying, ‘Don’t sell the house.’ Maybe the grandkids are there, being supported too.”
Adult children may also have a connection to the family home and use sentimentality to dissuade one or both parents from selling.
A decision to sell under these circumstances can be an agonizing and emotional one, laden with additional expenses and logistics. Regardless, though, Van Oss said a divorcing couple must have the ability and freedoms to make the decisions they think are best for their future.
When they say: What will happen to the debt from my wedding/student loan/failed business?
How you can react: Without guilt or blame, try to find a mutually agreeable solution.
When a couple marries, they agree to share assets and debts collected throughout their relationship. In case of a divorce, assets and debts usually get divided equally.
Debts a husband and wife accrue on behalf of their adult children can be difficult to manage after a separation. While the debt may be equally shared in the eyes of the law, one party may feel less responsible for it.
“Maybe the wife took out a $40,000 credit card debt to marry her daughter,” Van Oss said. “People have to face the consequences of dealing with these things if a divorce arises.”
Weddings, student loans, business loans and other types of debt tied to a mutual adult child can feel like an undue burden, making both parties resentful.
Meanwhile, the adult child is stuck in the middle, feeling guilty for adding to the stress of the situation. Or, worse, maybe they don’t care at all and avoid addressing the situation.
Rely on a qualified mediator to help you find a resolution for these types of mutual debts. Perhaps an adult child can become part of the payment plan or eventually take over payments. The parents may keep responsibility for the debt, but ask the adult child to simply recognize their ongoing efforts.
Divorce is never easy, especially after almost a lifetime together. If you have additional questions regarding grey divorce or the divorce process, please contact the Family Law Attorneys at Sterk Family Law to get started.