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Gray divorce can have a surprising social effect on empty nesters

Some people in unhappy marriages make the conscious choice to stay with their spouse for their children. People are familiar with the idea that divorce can be very damaging for young adults. They may also worry about the financial implications of divorce. They might stay with their spouse not only until the children are legally adults but also until they finish college.

While the motivation for those choices may be in the best interests of the children, the parents may set themselves up for a very difficult situation when they do eventually divorce. The social fallout of a divorce later in life, which many people call a gray divorce, can be far more profound than people initially realize.

Adult children may have strong reactions

People who file for adults after decades of marriage often expect their children to take the new in stride. They expect that grown-up children who now have their own families or who live independently should recognize that their parents are humans with a desire to seek their own happiness. Even so, for those children, their parents deciding to divorce can cause instability in a variety of ways.

They may question their self-identity and struggle with their sense of community. They are also more likely than underage children to take sides in the divorce. Parents with adult children usually don’t feel the need to shield them from details the way that parents with younger children might. They may share information about why they divorced or their feelings about the divorce with their children.

Those details might lead to the children taking the side of one parent or the other. In some cases, children stop talking to one of their parents and stop inviting them to family events. Unlike minor children, adult children are not subject to custody orders. Neither parent can force them to spend time with the other.

Older adults should not stay in a miserable marriage simply because they do not want to risk challenges in their relationships with their children. Still, they need to recognize that there may be more tension in the family after their divorce than they might initially anticipate.

Preparing for the unique challenges inspired by a divorce later in life may benefit those who stayed with their spouse for the children but are now ready to prioritize their own happiness.