Periodically it is my pleasure to bring to this venue a voice different from my own. Mary Murphy is a licensed clinical social worker and a doctoral candidate in counseling psychology from Oregon. When she contacted me about her research regarding adult children of divorce, I invited her to contribute to this page with hopes that you will support her work (see survey below). This work is of great value as she is looking to gather data from an often overlooked population. The effects of divorce on adult children are often minimized and Mary’s work helps shed a light on this issue.  

                          Assumptions, Adult Children, and Divorce                                       

Articles and books on divorce are replete with studies and discussions about the impact of divorce on children.  That is, young and adolescent children.  But what about the adult children?  There is an emerging focus on considerations relevant to children who are adults when their parents divorce after decades of marriage.  Cracks in assumptions, such as “they will be just fine”, or “they are mature now and have their own lives”, are being called into question.   Regrettably, these assumptions and many more have become embedded in the language of divorce.  

But is it realistic to assume adult children are unscathed with their parents’ late life divorce?  Paradoxically, it is precisely because they are adults they are vulnerable to their feelings of anger, confusion, and worries about their parents.  When a divorce occurs after decades of marriage, the adult child’s formative family is broken.  No matter how amicable or rancorous the divorce, each family member is profoundly impacted in ways that often take time to evolve. The longer a marriage the more complex the ties are to realign.

“Many parents have seen their children leading, in all external respects, a full and autonomous life.  They are genuinely surprised to see the depth of their children’s attachment to the family and its past” (Fintushel & Hillard, 1991).   Parents do not like to see their children suffer and the assumptions that “you are grown; you have your own life; you’ll be fine” may be an “instinctive response” (Fintushel & Hillard, 280).   Perhaps one of the most important things parents can do for their adult children is to acknowledge and validate their full measure of emotional pain. Moving away from the assumptions and moving toward the emotions of anger, confusion, and shock will enable the process of understanding and acceptance to begin.

Why is the impact of late parental divorce on the children uncertain? The answer to this question is complicated.  One way to reflect on this is through stages of development. “A secure sense of connection with caring people is the foundation of personality development” (Herman, 1992, p. 52).  When a formative family breaks up, can ego strengths developed in childhood, such as trust, fidelity, or competence be threatened?  If there is a relationship between ego strength and impact of divorce on adult children, knowing that will snuff out painful assumptions.  Painful assumptions will be replaced with knowledge and compassion.  

As partial fulfillment of my doctorate in counseling psychology, I am researching the impact of divorce on adult children who were age 23 years or older when their biological parents divorced. If you meet criteria and are interested in contributing to the open study, please use the link below to take the confidential and anonymous online survey. Thank you!



Fintushel, N., & Hillard. (1991). A grief out of season. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co.

Herman, J. H.  (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Mary Murphy, LICSW, is a doctoral candidate in counseling psychology at the American School of Professional Psychology Argosy University/Seattle.





  1. Reina on the 06. Aug, 2012 remarked #

    To know you are not alone-is tremendous.I’ll never forget a friend’s mother saying to me when I was twenty-two and had recently heard the world-shattering news of my parents divorce of their (happy) thirty-two year marriage, “At least you’re grown up. My kids were still children when my husband and I divorced. It was so painful for them.”At that time, the divorce became the single event of my life. It catapulted me into a clinical depression that I could not climb out of for three years, until I sought help. I’m glad I had the courage to do that, or I would not be here today. I’m still not “over” my parents’ divorce, which was now 4 years ago. But, the pain does lessen year by year. I still cannot talk about it in casual conversation. This is due to an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt about the divorce and embarrassment that it affected me in such a profound way. I do not feel room for these feelings in our culture so I keep them inside.

  2. CJ Golden on the 06. Aug, 2012 remarked #

    I know a young woman whose mother is about to be divorced for the second time – after twenty years with this particular partner. Her concern is for her mom and the fact that the partner has given so very much to her mother in terms of self esteem, self confidence and emotional growth. Will this last after the union disbands? Her’s is a legitimate concern. I know the mother and can only hope that the lessons she has learned and the strength she has gained these past twenty years will hold fast.

  3. sp on the 06. Aug, 2012 remarked #

    It can come as an enormous relief to many Acods when their parents meet new partners, although the core feelings of protection, jealousy and fear of abandonment shouldn’t be underestimated in adult children of divorce – particularly when the new partner has children that your parent may spend more time with than you.

  4. Katheryn on the 11. Aug, 2012 remarked #

    Unlike parents with young children who divorce, older parents who divorce tend to involve their adult children in the messy details of what happened. They confide information that is difficult to handle and can leave psychological scars. The ACODs are forced to take sides.

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