Adult Children and Divorce


How do we tell the children? In the past this question was usually asked by parents of young children and teenagers. However, due to the increase of divorce by couples who are in their 50s and 60s, the children are often adults.  Custody issues are not decided for adult children; nonetheless, divorce often has a profound impact on them.

In the New York Times on April 24, 2016 (“Never Too Old to Hurt From Parental Divorce”, pg. ST 15), Jane Gordon Julien describes how divorce can impact adult children.  Parents may expect their children to provide significant emotional support. However, the adult children may be preoccupied with their own feelings and reactions to their parents’ breakup.  Parents may want to talk with adult children about dating and new significant people in their lives while the adult children are still grieving the end of their parents’ marriage.

When older parents divorce, the adult children may question many aspects of their own lives. Dr. Carol Hughes, a divorce coach, remarked, “Some parents will say, ‘I wanted to divorce your mom or dad when you were little, but we had you kids.’ The adult child asks, ’Was it all a façade?’”

Therapists or mediators can help older divorcing parents and their adult children. Ms. Julien ‘s article contains advice from several professionals.  During divorce mediation, parents of adult children can discuss and decide when and where they will tell their children, and how they will handle holidays.  Divorce at any age affects each family member; the needs of adult children deserve to be addressed.

For more information about Sheila Russian and divorce mediation:


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Financing college education is challenging for just about everyone.  However, children whose parents are separated or divorced face additional obstacles.  Filling out the Federal Student Aid Application, applying for scholarships, and obtaining loans each require coordination, detailed financial information, and skill cam be particularly stressful for separated or divorced parents.

A 3 year old start up in California,, may offer some relief for students and families.  This unique program gives students specific financial incentives at a variety of colleges and universities, if students achieve particular goals and if they are admitted to participating colleges and universities.

For example, Pennsylvania State offers $120 for each A in a core course, $400 for each AP course, and $5 for each hour of community service.   Receipt of these funds does not depend on anything other than the ability of each student to meet the criteria and obtain admission to the participating college.

In an article by Natasha Singer in the New York Times Business Section on February 21, 2016 (“Got an A in Algebra? That’s Worth $120” pg. BU3) the benefit of is described as one way to,”level the college playing-and paying- field for low income students who may not receive the same advice at home as their higher-income peers. “

High school students whose parents are separated or divorced often have limited resources for college. Their parents may not have a clear understanding about how to finance college.  Parents often have difficulty sharing detailed financial information.  Their children are often caught in the middle. offers one way for these students to take the initiative and, on their own, earn a scholarship for college.  Students can use earned scholarship credits after they are admitted to a participating college. does not fully fund college educations. However, it is possible for students to earn several thousand dollars toward each year’s expenses. is a creative and practical resource for motivated students.


For more information:

Sheila C. Russian, Attorney-Mediator


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Reducing Trauma

The dictionary definition of trauma is, “an experience that produces psychological injury or pain.” Parents instinctively want to protect children from injury or pain.  However, when parents decide to separate or divorce, sharing the news with children is likely to be difficult and painful.  However, there are ways to reduce the emotional trauma.

Vikki Stark (Divorce: How to Tell the Kids. pg. 87-95)  compares the trauma of telling children with the way a child would react to any threat.   She points out that just as adrenaline would surge through a child’s  body so that he could run away from a physical threat such as a scary dog,  adrenaline will also provoke a strong reaction to hearing that his parents are separating.  He is likely to experience uncomfortable feelings and sensations, such as nausea and shakiness. A child may remain glued in a chair, but his mind and heart are likely to be racing.

Parents can help child cope with the fear and despair as they tell their children about separation and divorce.   Vikki Stark recommends that:

  1. Whenever possible, physical contact with your children is very comforting. Holding hands, having them sit next to you or on your lap is reassuring.
  2. Do whatever you can to remain as calm as possible. Part of children’s fear and despair is a reaction to the fear and despair that they see in parents. Of course, it is very likely that you are very upset and fearful; just do your best to keep these emotions in check when you are sharing the news with your children.
  3. Be there for your children as they react. Try to be attuned to them; be supportive as possible as they respond to your words. Reassure them that you will try to keep life as normal as possible.
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Jonas: A Teachable Moment for Separaed and Divorced Parents.

Jonas, the snowzilla of winter storms, has closed businesses and schools and has made driving treacherous.   Jonas has wreaked havoc on many parenting plans painstakingly created by separated and divorced parents.  Weekend plans?  Transportation?  Day care?  Weekday overnights?  Some, if not all, of these have been affected by Jonas.

Jonas reminds us that even the most comprehensive parenting plans may fall short. Parenting plans can deal with many, but never all, situations.  What can parents do when faced with unpredictable events?

  1. Decide how you are going to communicate.   If phone conversations always result in arguments, then use email or texts. Be sure to respond as quickly as possible when you hear from the other parent.
  2. Keep each other informed.   For example, if you cannot return the children to the other parent’s home on time because your neighborhood has not been plowed, tell the other parent. Otherwise, he/she may be imagining that you simply want to spend more time with the children. Updating each other minimizes misunderstanding and conflict.
  3. Ask the other parent for help. You may need advice. For instance, if you expected the children to be with you for 2 days, the other parent’s ideas how to plan meals for the extended time may be useful.
  4. When life returns to normal, be willing to talk with the other parent about updates to the parenting plan. Incorporate what you learned from Jonas into your agreement.



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How to Tell the Kids

One of the most difficult conversations parents will ever have with their children is the one in which they tell the children that they have decided to no longer live together.   If one parent had no idea that the marriage was in trouble until his/her spouse surprised her with a sudden announcement to end the marriage, the other parent may feel betrayed and shocked.  If the parents had been in marriage counseling for months, they may be less surprised, but are still likely to feel extremely upset, disappointed, and angry.  In her excellent book, Divorce How to Tell the Kids( Green Light Press, Montreal: 2015) Vikki Stark provides parents with background and recommendation for how to speak with children about their parents’ breakup.

In 15 short and concise chapters, Vikki Stark writes about topics ranging from Understanding Your Own Emotions to Reducing the Risk of Trauma. For example, she describes the importance of not undermining the other parent.   “We have a right arm and a left arm, and they’re both important…Your child’s identity includes both her mom and her dad—her right arm and her left arm.  Even if one arm (or parent) does not have the most stellar of qualities, she needs both of you. Please permit her to love both of you.” (page 15)

Each chapter concludes with a few sentences labelled TAKEAWAY. The TAKEAWAY contains important ideas as well as practical advice.  For instance,  one chapter talks about a planning meeting; a planning meeting is a time for both parents to meet and decide how to tell the children.  The TAKEAWAY includes:  “Don’t try to discuss too much…” and “Keep the focus on the plans for your child, and don’t see the discussion as an excuse to attack or entreat your spouse….”

When parents are unable to control their emotions, a planning meeting may not be possible. However, parents may be able to plan what they tell their children with the help of a third party.  Planning how to tell the children is an appropriate topic for mediation.  Sheila Russian will not take sides, but will help people discuss when to tell the children and how they will explain the separation.

Vikki Stark describes the family following the parents’ separation as, “a binuclear family with two homes.”   The children are likely to spend time with each parent in a different home.   Nonetheless, the children will continue to have a strong, loving, and secure bond with each parent.




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Holiday Planning

Holiday planning can be particularly challenging for separated or divorced parents. Work schedules, travel arrangements, the needs of the other parent, and religious observances can complicate arrangements.

Divorce mediation includes holiday planning. To begin, parents need to decide which holidays are important as well as what portion of the holiday needs to be discussed.  For example, Christmas is often important.  However, parents need to decide if Christmas means Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day?  Does Christmas extend to winter school vacations?

Are certain holidays more important to one parent than another?  One parent may relish trick or treating on Halloween while the other parent may have his/her heart set on going to the July 4th fireworks with the children.

How does each parent’s work schedule impact holiday plans?  If one parent knows that it’s impossible to take off Thanksgiving Day, then creating a plan in which Thanksgiving is always with the other parent may work best for everyone.

What if special days fall on days when children are in school? This often happens with birthdays—the children’s birthdays and the parents’ birthdays. Do parents want to spend the actual birthday after school with the child?  Or will it work best if “special time” is planned on the closest weekend?

What will each parent do when the children are with the other parent? Spending time alone on holidays can be difficult.  If one parent knows that he/she can join friends at the beach on Memorial Day Weekend, then it may be helpful to have the children be with the other parent on Memorial Day Weekend.   Although the focus is primarily on children, it is helpful to consider what  options will help parents adjust to spending holidays on their own.

For more information:


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Does the 1 Year Wait Still Apply to You?

A new law took effect in Maryland on October 1  that  eliminates the need to live separately for one year,  if you and the other person:

  1. Both agree to the  divorce and
  2. There are no minor children, and
  3. An agreement is reached about all financial issues

One of the sponsors of the bill, State Senator Robert Zirkind, described the benefits of the change, “It creates an incentive for people to work it out. Because the last thing you want in a divorce is people fighting over every last thing.”  (Baltimore Sun, 9/30/15,  p. 17}

Although the revision changes the timing of a divorce, it does not change the need for people to make informed financial decisions.  Mediation is an effective way for people to make informed financial decisions.

For example, when people own a home they need to decide whether or not  one person will reside in the home, and  the timing of  a buy out or a sale to a third party.  They need to decide who is responsible for the mortgage payment, the home equity line payment, insurance, and other expenses of the home.  They also need to talk about:

  • the mortgage interest deduction and other tax issues
  • realtor fees
  • closing costs
  • whether or not one of them will  qualify  for a new mortgage
  • what the selling price will be
  • how to divide the equity

Working face to face in mediation enables people to reach decisions.  People share information, talk about options, clear up misunderstandings they may have about each others’ needs, and consult with other professionals.  Sheila Russian helps clients understand the  similarities and differences as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each option.

Sheila Russian also helps people understand how each option will affect their day to day lives.  For example,  when people think about a selling price, she helps them figure out whether a particular price will cover all of their expenses of sale and whether or not there will be any remaining equity for each person.  Mediation provides a place for people to reach consensus, so that they are confident that they understand and can live with their financial decisions.

Sheila Russian is a member of the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, the Maryland State Bar, and the Maryland Program for Mediator Excellence.  For more information:

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