A new term has emerged, Grey Divorce. Divorcing when you are in your 50’s, 60’s or even later in life, and you have adult children, has specific challenges compared to divorcing when the children are young.

There are an escalating number of couples choosing separation and divorce in this older age group. Is it because couples wait until their children have grown up and left and no child support issues come into play? I however am speaking about when the children are much older, in their 20’s or 30’s, even their 40’s.

While many couples remain in a relationship busy with work, kids, family and life, when they reach that older age they suddenly ask themselves ‘do I really want to live with this person or live like this for the rest of my life?’ When the answer is a No, this is the catalyst for them to make changes.

Older couples are questioning if they really want to spend more time together with their spouse, particularly looking towards retirement. It is unfortunate that in some cases it is one parent only wishing to end the relationship, leaving the other partner devastated, hurt and bewildered as to how life will proceed now they are alone.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the divorce rates among those aged 50-plus have jumped substantially. The 60-to-64 group appears to be hardest hit, with divorce rates between 1985 and 2005 climbing by 70% for men and 81% for women. The one issue that many older separating people may not be aware of is the reaction your adult kids may have with your decision to separate or divorce.

Many over 50’s parents do not really think of their separation or divorce affecting their adult children, this however can be very wrong. We believe our adult children will react as the adults they are instead of the children they were, but divorce is hard on kids no matter what their age.

As mature children the last thing we usually think about is our parents’ divorcing at such a late stage in life. There are considerable challenges on the adult children and while we concentrate on the young children and their ability to cope, we forget about the children when they are older. It has been argued that older children can understand the reason for the relationship breakdown however I question this.

Does anyone really know what happens behind closed doors, the conversations, the sexual requirements of one partner and the intimacy they do or do not share? The children usually don’t. They may accept that mum and dad have always argued or said certain things but at their mature age divorce is not usually a thought. The most common difficulties adult children have when their parents announce separation or divorce include:

  • They question if their life was a fabrication of lies, did mum and dad simply remain together due to them? How can they explain this to their young children after all it is Nan and Pop, they are just always there for all of them.
  • The adult children may be told too many details about why they are getting divorced. Kids regardless of age, do not need details, ever. They love both parents and sharing the reasons why you can no longer stand being in the same house as their mother or father is always damaging for children to hear.
  • Children do not want to take sides, they want to often act as a mediator to ‘fix’ your relationship and have you reunite. The may feel obliged to play the role of the parent and become the confidante, guide and console their parents.
  • The family unit has dissolved or died and there will be a mourning process to work through the grief. This is often missed and many adult children become stuck in the disbelief or anger stage. This is the time each person should seek out a therapist to help them move through these stages and come out the other side. It is unfortunately a normal part of the grieving process.
  • The worry about how mum (or dad) will cope financially, particularly if mum worked only part-time. Is dad going to support her financially, who will get to stay in the family home, who can afford the repayments of the family home if income is divided? So many concerns for the adult children and concerns they do not want or need at this time of their lives if setting up their own family and asset pool.

Then of course the whole new issue occurs if one parent takes a new partner, that partner moves in or marries mum or dad. What happens to the asset pool and inheritance? The children always believe the asset pool generated during their childhood will naturally be left to them, however if a new person comes along (and has their own children), what does that mean to them and the grandchildren? Of course we also have the issue of accepting the new partner, having them now attend all family celebrations and functions.

As adults we are often more critical of the choice of partner made by our mature parent. I have many adult children visiting my therapy rooms with major issues of the new person ‘taking up’ with their older parent. This is all about what it means to them more than what this new person can add to their parent’s life. Sure we want to protect our parent from making a mistake but the line is very vague.

Do we critique each new person that becomes involved with our parent or do we accept our parent is intelligent enough to make their own choices, be that good or bad? The line is very fine indeed. Regardless of how the divorce occurs there is one constant: your divorce will impact your children.

The role of the parent is to understand your adult kids will need time to process your decision, time to grieve their loss and they need support in coming to terms with the choice you have made. Divorce is never easy for anyone, regardless of age.


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