Adult children involvement in relationship breakdown

When a couple separate after a relationship breakdown and then go on to either divorce or dissolve their civil partnership, the impact of that decision affects not just the couple but wider family members. If the parties have children, the impact can usually be felt the hardest by them regardless of whether the children are minors or adults at the time of separation.

If the separating couple have adult children there can be a tendency for one or both of the parties to lean on them for emotional support. However, although their child is an adult, some parents do not recognise just how unfair on the adult child their behaviour is. Children should not be involved in parental disputes regardless of their age, especially adult children who are grappling with their own emotions over their parents’ separation.

A large burden can also fall on the children if one or both parents say to them that they had been unhappy for a long time but had stayed in the marriage “for the sake of you children”. Feelings of guilt or being “responsible” for their parent’s unhappiness may then cross the adult child’s mind which is an unfair position for the child to be in.

In order to avoid such feelings and this situation arising, separating parents should consider these tips for dealing with their adult children as part of any divorce or dissolution proceedings:

  1. Boundaries –  it is important that the parents set clear boundaries with the adult children including not involving them in anything to do with the dispute. The parents can also set a limit on how much (if anything) the adult children want to hear about the ongoing proceedings.
  2. Support – both the separating parents and the adult children should all seek out separate and impartial support during this difficult time.  Each person could consider joining a support group, or seeking out a therapist who specialises in helping adult children of divorced parents.
  3. Self-care – each member of the family should practice self-care by making sure they participate in activities they enjoy or by prioritising self-care practices such as exercise, meditation, or therapy.
  4. Avoid the emotional crutch – if the adult child feels that one or both of their parents is starting to stray into using them as an emotional crutch, they must speak up and remind their parent(s) that they are not the best person for this role. It is also important that adult children remain neutral during their parents’ separation and not take sides.  Each separating parent needs to remember that it is the adult child’s choice as to what kind of relationship they wish to have with each parent going forward.

If you are experiencing a relationship breakdown and need some support and advice, Barker Gotelee are here to help. Please contact our family team in confidence on 01473 611 211 and book an initial consultation.

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Ipswich.

Ipswich Divorce Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email