Skip to Content
Litigation. Collaborative Law. Mediation.

Complications from Divorce When You Have Adult Children


Parents who wish to divorce must contend with the effects it will have on their children. Will they need to switch schools? Will they be forced to move out of their homes? Will they have to divide holidays? How will support be awarded, and will it be enough to cover medical expenses, education, and other child-related needs? How can they help their children get through the process?

When a couple has adult children who do not live at home, both parties may feel like their divorce will be less complicated for themselves and their children– and legally, it may be. However, there may be unexpected complications for one or both parents and the children.

Issue One: there is such a thing as too much truth

Assume that you have a strong relationship with your adult children. Perhaps you have even reached the “friends” status that so many parents want with their kids. You are open and honest with them, and they, in turn, are open and honest with you. And then you tell them you are getting a divorce.

In this moment, it is critical to remember that these adults are still your children. Too much honesty about why you and their other parent are getting divorced can be problematic, especially if the reason involves illegal activity, adultery, or anything that can distort their opinions about you or your spouse. You may not want to lie to your kids, but be judicious with the details unless absolutely necessary. Trust us – no adult child wants to hear any details about your sex life; that is what your actual friends are for.

Issue Two: your grief is not their grief

You and your spouse have broken the news to the children while you were all together. You think it went as well as it could have gone. Now, it is a few weeks later and your strong-minded firstborn will not stop crying. Your steadfast middle child is dropping leaflets for support groups in the mail slot and sending you links to singles groups. The happy-go-lucky youngest refuses to return your calls, and texts you in one-word answers.

While it may feel as though your kids have suddenly become someone else, remember that you and your spouse have already come to terms with your divorce. Perhaps you have been discussing it for months, or maybe even years. Your children, however, likely did not realize the extent of deterioration in your marriage or chalked it up to typical fighting between married couples. To them, the news is raw, and the loss is immediate. They have not had the time to come to terms with the end of your marriage. They need to grieve the loss of their family unit too, and it may take longer for them to wrap their heads around it.

Issue Three: the future suddenly looks uncertain

When parents decide to divorce after 25, or 30, or 40 years of marriage, what was once solid becomes fragile. Adult children probably assumed their families were “safe,” and have planned for a future that involved holidays at home, or birthday parties with the grandchildren. They, too, must contend with splitting holidays, possibly losing the family home, and worrying if their parents will be financially secure.

Reducing the stress of divorce on your adult children

The silver lining of having adult children when you decide to divorce is, hopefully, that they can articulate their feelings, and deal with them in a positive and healthy way. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • A unified position is better. You and your spouse should, if possible, tell your children together. Come to an agreement about when, where, and how you do this.
  • Your child’s age and circumstances are important. If your child is a freshman in college, keep in mind that they may not have the same support system in their first few months of college while they are in the process of making new friends and going through a major transition of their own.
  • They are going to have questions. You and your spouse should agree on which details you provide, and which questions you are willing to answer. You have the right to set your own boundaries.
  • You are entitled to your own happiness. At some point, someone will ask “Are you sure? Can the marriage be saved?” Be loving, but firm about your decision to divorce, and do not leave any room for interpretation that maybe you could get back together if the decision is final.
  • Review the estate plan. After your children have had time to adjust to the news, review your updated estate plan. Make sure your children know who the executor is, what the medical directives say, and where they can find all relevant information about your assets.
  • Consider a prenuptial agreement if you remarry. Older parents may have accumulated substantial assets over the years, and your children may have concerns that, if you remarry, these assets will be left to your new spouse. While a Will can obviate this issue to an extent, only a prenuptial agreement can ensure that your estate is distributed to your children alone.

Breaking the news of your divorce to your children is never easy, no matter how old your children are. Having the right attorney can help assuage some of their fears, and yours. To schedule a consultation with a NYC divorce attorney, call (212) 466-6015 or reach out to us through our contact form today. We serve clients throughout Manhattan, Westchester, and Bergen County, NJ.