the impact of gray divorce on adult children

The Impact of Gray Divorce on Adult Children

When older people decide to divorce, the focus is often on the couple themselves, but we tend to overlook the significant impact this tough decision has on their adult children. Referred to as “gray divorce” due to the hair color that older individuals frequently have, this life-altering event can be minimized or dismissed in terms of its effects on adult children.

The Marginalization of Adult Children

Adult children, despite being major stakeholders in their parents’ divorce, are treated as if they are marginal players in the process. There is an unspoken expectation that their grown status will shield them from significant emotional upheaval. However, the reality is that the disintegration of the family they have known their entire lives can be distressing and painful.

The Rise of Gray Divorce

Between 1990 and 2015, the divorce rate for adults aged 50 and older doubled. Several factors contribute to this phenomenon. Firstly, people are living longer than previous generations, and when they become empty nesters, they may still have decades of life ahead of them. Couples who may have tolerated each other while raising children now find it difficult to envision a fulfilling future together.

Economics also plays a role. With more women having jobs and careers outside the home, they are no longer financially dependent on their partners. This newfound financial independence allows them to consider divorce as a viable option if their marriage is no longer fulfilling.

Moreover, as people age, their values and expectations about marriage change. A growing number of individuals prioritize personal happiness over adhering to traditional marriage expectations.

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Overlooking the Impact on Adult Children

Many older couples contemplating divorce fail to consider the impact on their adult children. The common cultural misconception is that since they are adults, they should be equipped to handle the situation. However, the emotional turmoil faced by parents during divorce often makes it challenging to adequately address their children’s feelings.

The legal system also reinforces this oversight, as it lacks provisions for adult children in divorce proceedings. The courts typically only consider the best interests of minor children. As a result, adult children are left unaddressed in the divorce process.

The Emotional Toll on Adult Children

Regardless of their age, parental divorce can be highly stressful and emotional for adult children. Younger adult children who may still be financially dependent on their parents might worry about their future financial stability. Others may find themselves in the role of caretakers for their parents, causing additional strain and burden.

The divorce may also disrupt family celebrations and traditions, impacting relationships with extended family members and grandparents. Additionally, adult children may worry about their parents’ emotional vulnerability and the possibility of being taken advantage of by con artists.

Helping Adult Children Cope with Divorce

Parents play a crucial role in helping their adult children cope with divorce. It is essential for parents to understand that their divorce affects their children, regardless of their age. Listening to their children’s feelings and providing emotional support can be highly beneficial.

Research indicates that at least half of adult children experience negative emotions regarding their parents’ divorce, but many eventually work through these issues with their parents.

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Setting effective communication skills and boundaries can aid in navigating the challenges that arise during divorce. Encouraging parents to seek professional help to process their emotions can also be valuable.

Navigating Parental Divorce as an Adult

For adult children struggling to cope with their parents’ divorce, hope and healing are attainable. Validating their feelings of shock, anger, worry, sadness, anxiety, and grief is crucial, as they are not alone in experiencing these emotions.

Learning effective communication and boundary-setting skills can help in managing relationships with parents, family members, and friends. It is essential for adult children to establish their own holiday traditions and rituals if they wish to do so.

Encouraging parents to seek professional support from counselors, therapists, or clergy can facilitate emotional healing. Moreover, consulting with professionals experienced in the effects of divorce on adult children can provide valuable guidance in handling parents’ dating, re-partnering, and remarriage.


When older people divorce, the impact on their adult children should not be overlooked or minimized. Recognizing the emotional toll and providing support during this difficult time can help adult children cope and find healing. By understanding the challenges and acknowledging the needs of adult children, families can navigate the process of gray divorce with greater sensitivity and compassion.


  1. How common is gray divorce? The divorce rate for adults aged 50 and older has been on the rise, doubling between 1990 and 2015.
  2. Why are older people divorcing more frequently? Factors such as longer life expectancies, economic independence, and changing values about marriage contribute to the rise of gray divorce.
  3. Do adult children of divorced parents experience emotional distress? Yes, divorce can be highly stressful and emotional for adult children, regardless of their age.
  4. How can parents help their adult children cope with divorce? Parents should listen to their children’s feelings, provide emotional support, and encourage seeking professional help if needed.
  5. Are there resources available for adult children of gray divorce? Yes, resources like the book “Home Will Never Be the Same Again: A Guide for Adult Children of Gray Divorce” can provide valuable insights and support.
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