Empty nest divorce: the kids are gone and so is the magic

Empty nest divorces are a growing trend, but a little attention can prevent them.
Empty nest divorces are a growing trend, but a little attention can prevent them.

SAN DIEGO, May 10, 2014 – Just as family law attorneys and divorce professionals have grown used to seeing “gray divorces” among people age 50 and over, there is a new twist in divorce trends. Call it the “empty nest divorce.”

In my own family law practice, more clients than ever are seeking a divorce after a long-term marriage of 20, 30, or even 40 years. This isn’t an isolated situation. Gray divorces have doubled in the last 20 years, defined as divorces among people age 50 and over, even while divorce rates have declined slightly overall.

There is now a specific subset of this group, and the cause for the divorce is clear: the kids have left home for college or their first adult job and living arrangements. Mom and Dad are breathing a sigh of relief that they actually managed to get human beings to adulthood in one piece. Everything should be looking rosy, right?

But now that the kids are gone, so is the magic in the marriage. Couples who have been busy supervising their child’s education, extracurricular activities, social events while teaching them to be honest, moral, and happy finally have time to reconnect their lives. After 20 or 25 years, they realize they don’t have much left in common, and little to say to each other.

Life expectancy is increasing, and someone in his or her 40s or 50s can easily live another 20, 30, even 40 years. People decide they don’t want to continue in an unfulfilling marriage for several decades.

Infidelity, infidelity, or problems with the kids aren’t usually a contributing factor to empty next divorces as they can be in other types of divorce cases. This happens to a couple who have through no fault of their own become strangers to each other outside the roles of Mom and Dad. This is the “we’ve grown apart” divorce.

The fallout of an empty nest divorce

Empty nest divorces and grey divorces pose some of the same unique challenges. If one spouse stayed at home while the other worked, the financial realities can be quite serious. While California calls for keeping the financially disadvantaged spouse at the same standard of living through the division of assets and spousal support, the ex receiving support is usually eventually expected to earn his or her own income. Finding employment can be very difficult in the current economy, especially for someone over 40 whose current resume is thin and job skills are rusty.

While child support isn’t generally a concern, alimony or spousal support can be the big issue. A spouse awarded alimony can collect until he or she remarries, or dies. Just living together can also affect the amount of alimony in some states, so avoiding marriage in order to continue to get full alimony doesn’t always work out.

After decades of marriage, divorce can come as a shock. These problems require careful attention, management and external support.

And just because your children are adults in the eyes of the law, it doesn’t mean the divorce won’t rock their world. It can shake the foundation of the family structure they believed in while growing up and be a tremendous shock. Parents who get divorced never really avoid dealing with the fallout on their children, no matter their ages.

Prevent an empty nest divorce by reconnecting and pursuing the kind of activities you enjoyed before you had kids.
Prevent an empty nest divorce by reconnecting and pursuing the kind of activities you enjoyed before you had kids.

An empty nest divorce is preventable

Ready for some good news for a change? Empty nest divorces are preventable with a just a little effort. Couple who “grew apart” without realizing it have a good change of reconnecting by admitting and addressing the situation.

Don’t ignore what’s happening. Start preparing in advance of the ‘empty nest’ by spending more time with your spouse in the year before your kids leave home. Learn to adjust and to reconnect. It’s smart to gets some couples counseling so you can learn how to interact as a couple without kids. You should not feel foolish about this.

Couples need to learn to relate again without the buffer of their kids around all of the time. This means that they need to find the common interests that brought them together years ago. That may mean taking a class together, learning a new sport, joining a club, or other similar activities. Whatever it is, you and your spouse need to change the paradigm so that you don’t fall into silence when there are no kids to talk about or focus on anymore on a daily basis.

But if these efforts simply don’t work, empty nest divorces can be ideal candidates for the collaborative divorce process. In a collaborative divorce, the parties agree to work with their own individual team of professionals including an attorney, financial planner, and coaches who are licensed mental health professionals to come to an equitable agreement for the entire family outside the court system.

Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in Communities Digital News. Follow Myra on Twitter: @LawyerMyra. Fleischer can be reached via Google +

Copyright © 2014 by Fleischer & Ravreby, Attorneys at Law

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  • jkubin

    Excellent article. If you are married and the kids are in high school, it might be time to start thinking of you and him or you and her, verus her / him and the kids as a adjunct to you.

  • yesIDeeClaire

    Since each of us is different, the only way to equalize us would be to treat each of us unequally.

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