Separation & Divorce With a Millennial Child Still at Home

familiesMany young adult children – known as Millennials (those born between approximately 1982-2004) find themselves in the middle of their parents divorce in more ways than one. It not a new phenomenon that parents wait until their children are grown before they embark on a divorce, but today’s young adults are often still in the nest when this happens relying on their parents for both shelter and financial support.

Why do so many parents get divorced when their children are barely out of their teens or are just beginning their lives as independent adults?  In previous years, many parents have waited until their children left the nest because it was only then, when the intense focus on child rearing disappeared, that the couple realized the extent to which their relationship with one another had changed. Other times, parents notice the changes in their feelings for one another, but agree not to put their children through the emotional turmoil that often accompanies a divorce until after the children are “old enough to understand”.

This latest generation of children crossing the threshold into adulthood, the generation known as “Millennials” and “Generation Y”, is making these sorts of decisions a bit more complicated for parents than had been the case with previous generations. If you are considering a separation or divorce, and have children in their mid-teens to late twenties, here are some things to keep in mind about the way this generation differs from previous generations of young adults and the complications these differences may present in a divorce.

One of the most important factors affecting this generation, and how they go about the business of growing up, is the economic climate that Millennials have inherited.  As we all know, the marketplace is hardly ideal for these young people in terms of finding work. The Millennial Generation is the first generation, since the Great Depression, which, economists predict, will probably do worse, economically, than their parents.

As a result of this, Millennials enter adulthood slower than previous generations — sort of like a “delay” in growing up — because there is not a whole lot to grow up for when there are very few “adult” jobs available.  This means that they are delaying marriage, home-ownership and long-term employment longer than their parents or grandparents did. The Millennial Generation has less financial and job security than previous generations did in their twenties, but they are also the most educated generation in history.  This odd combination not only leads to tremendous frustration for these young people who were told, in no uncertain terms, to “get an education”, but has saddled many of them with tremendous student loan debt. This generation has more debt than any other generation before them due, mostly, to the sky rocketing costs of college and that fact that so many of them have taken their parents advice and gotten their degrees, only to have no where to put their newfound education to work.

The result?  Many Millennials are staying in their parents’ homes longer, or returning to live with them, after finishing undergraduate or graduate school. This is important information for parents considering a separation, because they will also have to take into account where the adult child, who plans on returning home after college or still resides at home (and can’t find work, and is saddled with debt) will go if the family residence is sold? Also, the parents will need to consider how the surmounting expenses that often appear as a result of divorce (e.g. two mortgages/rents, legal fees, etc.) will impact any promises made or expectations (based, perhaps, on what the parents did for an older sibling) regarding financial support, assistance with paying off debt, etc.

Many Boomer and X Generation commentators, (who are the parents of the Millennials), have stated that their progeny are the most coddled generation to date. This may be true, but the main reason for this “coddling” also needs to be pointed out: The parents of Millennial Generation children tended to have fewer children than their parents or grandparents did.  Their energies, focus and emotions were, therefore, all directed toward one or two children. The end result of this “coddling” is not all bad, however, as the Millennials tend to have stronger bonds with their parents which, research shows, leads to better relationship skills as adults.    Unfortunately, however, these stronger bonds may lead to more serious emotional consequences when these young adults have to deal with their parents’ separation and divorce. Parents, therefore, should not expect that, just because their son or daughter is now twenty something, that he or she will accept the news of the intent to separate or divorce lightly.  Divorcing parents with millennial-aged children should be prepared for any number of reactions and need to carefully choose their words when letting the kids know what is happening in terms of how a divorce may affect everyone in the family, both emotionally and financially, and what is expected of the children in terms of helping out financially, finding their own residence despite economic hard times, etc.

Primary Source:  “What It Means to Be a Millennial”, Presented by The Diane Rehm Show February 18, 2013.

Posted by Zia Meyer, Mediation Assistant (and a Millenial)

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


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