They are caught in the perfect storm. At the same time that the baby boomers are experiencing the highest divorce rate in the country, their children – the 20 and 30 year olds with no job who have been knick-named “the boomerang generation” – are returning home to live with “mom and dad” in record numbers. But, what happens to the boomerang generation if mom and dad are divorced? Where do they go when there is no “home” for them to go back to? And, more importantly, who supports them?
According to the Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data, 21.6% of young adults between the ages of 25 – 34 live in multi-generational families, with most of them living with their parents. What’s more, given the current economic climate, even many young people who are not living with their parents still rely on their parents for financial support.
38% of all 25 – 34 year old adults in the U.S. say their current financial situation is linked to their parents’ financial situation in some way. That means that when their parents’ financial situation suffers, theirs does too.
So, who is responsible for taking care of “the kids” when they are all grown up, but still need financial support from their parents? Are their parents still obligated to support them even after they have reached majority?
In the United States, the answer is simple: No. With only a few limited exceptions, parents are not obligated to support their adult children. Period. In some states they may be required to contribute toward the payment of their children’s college educational expenses. And, if their children have been disabled from birth that can be a different story. But, beyond that, the parents usually have no legal obligation to support their adult children at all.
But, what if you, as a parent, feel a moral or ethical obligation to support your children to the best of your ability no matter how old they are? Then what?
If you and your spouse (or your ex-spouse) agree on how and how much to support your adult kids, there’s no problem. You do whatever you think is right to the extent that you each can afford it. The problem arises when you are divorced, or when you are going through a divorce, and you and your spouse do NOT agree on whether to support your grown kids and/or you CAN’T afford it. That’s when things get tricky.
Let’s talk first about what to do if you and your ex agree that you would like to help your child, but neither of you has much money post-divorce. Here are tips for how to help your adult child when you and your ex are on the same page:
1. Talk to your Ex first and decide, as parents, what you can and can not do. Be honest with each other about what each of you can and can not afford, and what each of you is willing to do to help support your child. Make sure you are clear on how much support you are willing to give, and for how long. .
2. Be honest with your child. If you don’t have a lot of money, tell your child that! If you only have a one bedroom apartment and can’t accommodate your child, let your child know that! Setting realistic expectations with your child on the front end will go a long way towards maintaining a good relationship with your child and creating a situation that works for everyone, on the back end.
3. Be creative. If you are financially strapped but want to give your child a place to live, maybe you need to ask your child to pay at least a small amount of rent or buy groceries so that you can make ends meet. Maybe you ask your child to take on certain household responsibilities (like cooking or cleaning) so that you are not exhausted from working and taking care of the family too. Brainstorm ways that you can help each other out so that everyone’s needs get met.
The harder situation arises when you and your spouse are not on the same page about the kids. How can you get your ex to help support your boomerang kids when your ex has no legal obligation to do so?
1. If you are not yet divorced – but are in the process of or expecting divorce – when your child moves back in with you, negotiate! Maybe there is something that your spouse wants in the divorce that you could trade in exchange for your spouse paying you a monthly amount so you can support your child. Or, maybe you negotiate to receive a greater percentage of cash or other liquid assets so that you have a pool of money to draw from while you help your child out.
2. Get help from a financial planner as soon as possible! Yes, you want to help your kids, but you don’t want to put yourself in the poor house in the process. You absolutely need to talk to an experienced financial planner so that you understand what your current – and future – financial situation will look like if you support your adult child now. A financial planner can help you brainstorm options you may not have thought about. But, you can not, and should not, use money that you will need in the future to support yourself, to help your child now.
3. Mediate or Collaborate: DON’T litigate. You will have much more control over the way your divorce settlement is structured if you use mediation or collaborative law to resolve your issues rather than litigation. Remember, your spouse has no legal obligation to support your adult children. So you are going nowhere fast with a judge.
4. Be Honest With Your Kids, but Don’t Bash Your Ex. If you are contributing to your kids’ support and your ex is not, they are going to figure it out! They are, after all, adults! But, even though they are adults, they are still entitled to have a relationship with both of their parents. If you bad mouth your ex you can damage or destroy your children’s relationship with him/her. If you think that doesn’t hurt your kids, you’re wrong! Don’t do it!
If you are facing divorce and your children are part of the boomerang generation, you may want to think about putting some money aside so that, if you have to help your children, and you want to help them, you can help them.
If you are already divorced and you want to help your children, but can’t afford to do so, or can only do so in a limited way: be honest with your kids and just do the best you can.
Finally, and most importantly, try to maintain at least a civil relationship with your ex and encourage your child to do the same. Not only will that make your ex much more willing to help your children if they need it, but it will help your children maintain the healthy relationship they need to have with your ex.