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The Empty Nest Syndrome and Divorce

Posted by Tom Holland | Jul 14, 2021 | 0 Comments

The Empty Nest Syndrome and Divorce
Many people marry because they want to have children. Many spouses stay together, even when they know the marriage is over, for the sake of their children. They think that staying engaged in their children's lives is more important than the difficulties of being in a loveless marriage.

The “empty nest syndrome” refers to the change in the family relationship when the children no longer live in the family home. For some spouses, they are happily married while they're raising their children. Their lives begin to drift apart after the children leave high school or when their children start their own careers and their own families.

Why an empty nest may lead to a South Carolina divorce

Empty nest syndrome leads to divorce for the same reasons other couples divorce: communication flounders, coupes fall out of love, there are financial concerns, and so forth. The primary difference between an empty nest divorce and other separations is that couples may be so focused on their children that they put all other concerns on the backburner. Once the children are gone, those other concerns come to the forefront.

According to MidLife Divorce Recovery, spouses who divorce in midlife experience a number of significant changes outside of their children leaving home. Those changes include:

  • Physical changes. Our bodies change as we get older, of course. As we age, we may be more susceptible to certain health conditions, and we start to slow down. This can make certain activities more difficult, or even impossible, for couples to continue. Often, these physical changes lead to feelings of anxiety or depression, which can also affect a marriage.
  • Employment opportunities. While some older workers with their own business may be able to devote more time to their business, many empty nesters are starting to think about retirement. For couples who have retired, that could mean a significant amount of time with one another and no “buffer” in the form of the children. If one spouse loses a job, there will be increased financial burdens that may be harder to overcome, as it can be more difficult to find work as one ages. MidLife Divorce Recovery states that many older women (about 1 in 4) who consider a “gray” divorce can barely make ends meet without their spouse's financial support.
  • Parental needs. A middle-aged couple may have elderly parents to care for, and that caretaking can take up a considerable amount of time. Anxiety over the wellbeing of elderly parents can create a lot of strife within a marriage, especially if one spouse starts “replaces” child rearing with caretaking.

Lost outside connections can trigger an empty nest divorce, too

Empty nesters don't just feel the loss of their children. When the children leave home, spouses often lose contact with the parents, teachers, and other adults who supported their children or their children's friends. As this last year has taught us, many people suffer without the daily contact of others, even when those others are not family or close friends.

Empty nest life can be especially difficult for stay-at-home parents (SAHP), whose days are now wide open instead of filled with the needs of their children (perceived or actual). While one husband/wife may make new friends, start a new role at a job, or otherwise keep engaging with the outside world, the SAHP is often left to wonder what she/he will do with the rest of his or her time – and with whom he or she will spend it. This can create feelings of inadequacy, isolation, or even jealousy.

All of these factors can lead to an increase in mid-life divorce rates.

Divorce concerns for empty nesters considering a divorce

One benefit to an “empty nest divorce” is that you likely will not have child custody or support concerns; after all, your children are out of the house, and therefore neither support nor custody should be an issue. There are other factors, though, that bear consideration.

  • The division of property. South Carolina divides marital property By the time the children leave home, marital spouses have accumulated significant wealth including home equity, bank accounts, business interests, and other assets which do need to be divided equitably.
  • The division of debts. Older couples may have accrued significant debt, either through mortgage, credit cards, home loans, educational loans, and medical needs. Know that medical debt may be subject to equitable division, so keep paying your health insurance premiums no matter what.
  • The division of retirement accounts. Pensions, 401(k) accounts, IRAs – all of these may be subject to division in a divorce if both parties contributed, or if they were created during the marriage. (Retirement funds contributed before the marriage should remain separate.) You will likely need a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) in order to move funds from one account to another without incurring significant fees or tax burdens.
  • The spouse who needs financial help because she/he spent most of her life raising the children or for other reasons such as ill-health has the right to ask the more financially secure spouse for alimony. A spouse may seek the following types of alimony:
    • Rehabilitative alimony
    • Reimbursement alimony
    • Lump-sum alimony
    • Periodic alimony
    • Separate maintenance and support

At Holland Law LLC, we guide spouses through all phases of their divorce. We understand the unique challenges spouses face based on their economic circumstances and the reasons for the divorce. We counsel clients in York, Lancaster, and Chester Counties. To schedule a consultation with an experienced divorce attorney, please call 803-219-2630, or reach out through our contact page. We maintain offices in Fort Mill and Rock Hill.

About the Author

Tom Holland

Experienced Divorce, DUI, and Criminal Defense Attorney While I've been primarily focused on the practice of divorce and family law for the past decade, my experience as a criminal prosecutor has continued to serve my clients well. I previously served as the General Counsel for the Lancaster Cou...


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