While divorce rates in New Jersey and across the country are on a downward trend, the same is not true of every demographic sector. One group of people that continues to divorce at higher rates are Americans over 50; this trend has taken on the label of “gray divorce.” While parents who divorce later in life may have different concerns from the parents of young children, adult kids can still experience significant emotional effects following a gray divorce.
In the past decades, gray divorce has become a more common phenomenon. While divorce was once rare among older sectors of the population in New Jersey, a growing number of people have found that they want to end marriages that are not working, even in their senior years. There are a number of reasons for the rise of gray divorce. People are living longer, healthier lives, and they have the opportunity to complete their lives in a happier relationship. In addition, greater equality in the workforce often means that both partners feel they have the ability to survive financially after a divorce.
People are working longer as well, with more years remaining until their retirement. In addition, many people may wait until their children are grown up, graduated from college or out of the family home before deciding to divorce. In fact, the “empty nest” itself can reveal problems in the marriage that were earlier obscured by family responsibilities and activities. As a result, couples may turn to a family law attorney to resolve their problems by ending the relationship.
While couples that opt for a gray divorce are often financially well-established, these divorces can be complex for a number of reasons. If you are considering a New Jersey gray divorce, a family lawyer may provide advice and guidance on your next steps. In particular, long-term marriages of many years may involve complicated property distribution agreements or ongoing spousal support; these complexities are not as much of a concern for those in shorter marriages, regardless of the age of the partner.
Couples may need to figure out financial questions about how to divide their retirement funds, come to a settlement on the marital home and other issues related to their joint assets. Couples married for decades often have a high level of financial and practical entanglement alongside their romantic partnership, and a divorce lawyer can provide an overview of the fiscal effects of a divorce later in life.
However, parents may have waited to divorce until their children were adults and out of the house, often married with kids of their own. While a gray divorce may have very different effects than a divorce between parents with young children, it can still carry significant emotional weight.
Adult children of divorcing parents are better able to understand the emotions and complexities involved in any separation. They may have experienced break-ups or even divorces of their own, and they know the difficulties that can arise in a relationship from personal experience and those of their friends and family. Still, it can come as a surprise to learn that one’s parents have consulted divorce attorneys and have decided to end their marriage.
When people grew up with parents in an unhappy marriage, they may be relieved at the end of the relationship or even angry that the process took so long. On the other hand, if the adult children were unaware of their parents’ feelings, they may feel shocked, hurt and worried. Friends and loved ones of adult children whose parents are divorcing may brush aside their feelings; after all, they may say, it is better that your parents are divorcing now than when you were a young child.
However, parental divorce can be very stressful for adult children. This does not mean that older couples choosing a New Jersey gray divorce should attempt to stay together for the sake of their now-grown kids. It does mean that it can be important to be sensitive and supportive to middle-aged adult children whose parents are deciding to divorce. Because adult children are so aware of the complex realities associated with divorce, they may have greater concerns than young children. A family lawyer may also speak to divorcing spouses about the broader effects on their family and provide advice for dealing with difficult conversations.
They may have significant practical worries about the future alongside their emotional pain and shock. If one parent is unable to support themselves medically or financially after the divorce, what will the role of the children be? Will family gatherings be forever divided in the future, and how will parents explain grandma and grandpa’s divorce? These worries may be overwhelming, especially for adult children who feel they do not have support and whose concerns are dismissed simply because they are not young children.
Many adults whose parents are divorcing have found support from professionals, such as counselors or therapists. Others have found that family and friends are willing to listen and provide support once they understand that parental divorce can still be troubling for an adult. Siblings who are sharing the same experience can also provide commiseration and solidarity through a difficult experience for the entire family.
Of course, a gray divorce imposes the greatest stress on the couple going through the separation. Dealing with asset division and distribution of retirement funds, selling the marital home and planning for a different financial future can be incredibly challenging, especially when combined with the loss of a serious romantic relationship with shared children.
However, divorcing parents of adult children can also help their kids to get through the divorce successfully. Adults’ greater awareness of the complexities of relationships may mean that they understand intimate details that can escape the notice of small children, and their perceptions of their parents may be affected as a result. Adult children are not confidantes or best friends for sharing problems with the other parent, even if the effects on young children are no longer a concern. They still often love both of their parents and do not want to lose their relationship or listen to negative talk about the other parent.
In addition, parents going through a divorce can help to make family gatherings or time with grandchildren easier. Rather than bringing the conflicts in the divorce to the family environment, they can work together to positively “co-grandparent” in a way that does not impose further stress on their children and grandchildren. This means sharing the same space at birthday parties, family celebrations and other activities.
By keeping the intimate details of the divorce away from adult children and avoiding negative talk about a former spouse, parents going through a gray divorce can also help to support their grown children through the experience. Some adult children may be able to provide helpful advice, but professionals like divorce attorneys, marriage counselors and financial advisors are best placed to help people going through a gray divorce to plan for the future.
When people decide to divorce later in life, there are many complex issues to sort out. This is magnified when a couple choosing a gray divorce shares adult children or a decades-long relationship. A family law attorney can provide advice and guidance throughout the process. Contact the experienced New Jersey divorce lawyers at Lawrence Law by calling 908-645-1000 or using our convenient, easy online form for a consultation about divorce negotiations at our Red Bank or Watchung, New Jersey, office.