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Divorce and the empty nest

Empty Nest Syndrome is when the last child leaves home and parents suddenly find that they are once again alone in the house. For many, it's something they may not have experienced for 20 or 30 years.

Parents with a house full of rowdy children may think it sounds great to have this empty nest and return to the way they lived when they were a young newlywed couple. They may dream about sleeping in every morning, relaxing to read a book after dinner and having more time for one another.

Sure, this happens to some parents, but many others never get this relaxing return to form. Instead, they get divorced.

Why does it happen?

There are a few reasons why parents may get divorced after becoming empty nesters. For example, some parents wanted to get divorced sooner, but they made a conscious decision to stay together. They did not want to put the kids through a divorce. When the last child heads to college, they feel like they can finally do it in a way that only impacts them.

Another factor is that parents may have lost their identity as a couple. They became parents first and foremost. They didn't really have much of a relationship outside of that. They may think of the kids, in retrospect, as the glue that prevented divorce. With them out of the home, the two adults may suddenly realize they don't actually want to stay married.

In fact, some parents feel like they have nothing in common as individuals. They never realized it along the way because they always had the kids in common. But they developed different interests and hobbies. They turned into different people. Now that they have to spend all their time alone together, those differences become obvious.

Some couples may also have had long-standing problems or issues in the marriage. Maybe they didn't communicate well or they didn't really get along or they disliked spending time together. With the kids around, they pushed these things aside, putting them on the back burner, and ignored them. They focused on the children instead. Those little issues may suddenly feel like they grow and become obvious later in life.

What are your options?

There are more reasons that people get divorced later in life, but hopefully this gives you some idea of why and how it happens -- and why it could happen to you, even if you appeared to have a strong marriage from the outside.

If you do wind up getting divorced, do you know what options you have? Make sure you really understand all of your legal rights and the steps you will need to take.

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