While there are plenty of legal measures in place to try and safeguard the continued emotional and financial well-being of children (e.g. with child support laws continuing up until age 18), the law is less prescribed with older children.
The number of older children whose parents divorce has grown significantly over the last few decades. The rise in later life separation and divorce is so acute that there is a whole ream of new acronyms to describe the situation including ‘Adult Children of Divorced Parents’ (ACODS), ‘grey divorce’ or ‘silver separation’. For older children, despite their age and potential higher levels of maturity, there is not always the legal or support network in place.
How old is an older child?
This article looks at two broad age groups of “older” children:-
- those over 16 but still in education and under the age of 18; abd
- over 18’s – or the ‘ACODS’.
Children over 16 but under 18 will still be provided for by the child support measures in place and in some circumstances, support may be required to extend beyond the age of 18 if the child is still in full-time education or has special needs.
However, once over the age of 18, the law is less defined and financial maintenance or contributions to adult children may fall under the ‘bank of mum’ or the ‘bank of dad’ – i.e. the generosity and financial capacity of the parents.
Financial support to the over 18’s to continued education and general maintenance will largely fall on the goodwill of either parent.
Emotional Support of Older Children
While there may be a limited legal framework for the continued financial support of older children – certainly those over 18 – the bottom line is that older children may be equally emotionally vulnerable to the prospect of their parents separating or divorcing. The most critical age group is arguably the late teens who will already be experiencing a significant flux in their lives and/or approaching critical stages in their education and personal lives.
We would advocate the same age appropriate actions from parents toward the children when they are separating – that is, by ensuring that your children hear it from you rather than their social circles, be as transparent as possible and exclude them from being involved in the dispute.
Given their age, they may have witnessed the gradual or dramatic decline in the marriage and as ever we would urge both parties to be neutral, not to disparage the other parent or sling dirt on your ex-partner if, for example, extramarital affairs were involved.
Parents chose to be parents and continued emotional support from both parents should be a natural ongoing concern. As separated parents of older children, while physical encounters between the parents is less likely – given less daily juggling of after school care, contact days etc – there is still a good chance that both parents will have to attend events that are very important to older children such as graduations, weddings, and the birth of grandchildren. As such we would always advocate – where possible – to work on your relationship with your ex-partner.
While the laws protecting the care and support of children may not extend (in most circumstances) beyond the age of 18, the reality is that you and your ex-partner do not stop being parents when your child turns 18, and you will have to co-parent together, to some extent, for the rest of your lives.
This however is not always easy and where needed services such as counselling, mediation and other forums that allow for open discussion on how to support older children after divorce should be promoted.