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Divorce: what happens to adult children still at home?

View profile for Karen Johnson
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According to the latest information released by the Office of National Statistics, the number of young adults living with their parents is continuing to increase. It is estimated that in 2018, 1 in 4 young adults, aged between 20 and 34, were living with their parents.

The reasons for this are likely due to various socio-economic reasons. These might include extended education, housing costs and also due to people forming lasting relationships later in life. These figures are also likely to include so-called “boomerang kids” (children that leave home only to return following financial difficulties or relationship breakdown).

As family solicitors, we are often instructed by clients who are facing a relationship breakdown. However, they still have children over the age of 18 living in the family home. Any parent knows full well that your responsibility for your child doesn’t end on their 18th birthday, but is instead a lifelong commitment.

What happens to adult children of divorce? 

When dealing with the financial aspects of divorce, the court has a wide range of orders it can make in favour of a spouse or child of the family. These include maintenance, lump sums payments and orders in respect of property.

There are, however, limitations to the court’s ability to make financial orders in favour of children. In general terms, this means that the court’s power to make these orders ceases when the child reaches 18 years of age. However, this is subject to whether the child is continuing in education or undergoing training for a trade, profession or vocation. It is also subject to special circumstances, such as a child who has a physical or mental disability.

Subject to these limitations, when considering what financial orders should be made in favour of the spouse or child, the court must take into account all of the circumstances of the case, but must give priority to the needs of any child under the age of 18.

The other factors that the court must take into account when considering finances on divorce are:

  • the parties’ needs
  • incomes and earning capacities
  • their ages
  • the length of the marriage
  • the standard of living
  • conduct
  • contributions, and
  • anything else that would be unfair to disregard

This does mean that once a child is over the age of 18 they are no longer the court's primary concern.

In real terms, when dealing with a case involving adult children living at home, a court will recognise their ongoing dependence whilst they remain in education or if they are disabled. Beyond that, their “needs” are not likely to be taken into account. Instead, a court is likely to consider that the adult child is capable of living independently and able to meet their own needs.

If the adult child wishes to remain living with a parent (and the parent wishes the same thing), they are likely to be expected to contribute towards the costs. This will be considered a potential income and/or capital resource for the parent they will be living with.

What happens if adult children have contributed to the family home financially? 

Another issue that can arise with adult children who have remained living at home, is that they may have already made financial contributions to the home.

Depending upon the extent and nature of those contributions, and previous discussions as to the basis of those payments, it is quite possible that the adult child may be able to establish a beneficial interest in the family home. In that situation, they may need to be joined to the financial proceedings (if an agreement can not be reached) in order to determine the extent of that interest in the property.

Divorce and the financial issues that need to be resolved have far-reaching consequences for the couple and the wider family.

Receiving early legal advice so that you can understand and explore your options is essential. It is also extremely important to ensure that matters are dealt with as amicably as possible. Failure to do so is not only likely to result in more significant legal costs, but will also mean that matters take longer to be resolved. There will also be a significant emotional cost for all concerned.

If any of these issues are troubling you at the moment then please contact me for a free, no obligation, 15 minute telephone conversation.

I am a divorce lawyer based in our Colchester office and can be contacted on 01206 217305 or karen.johnson@birkettlong.co.uk. Alternatively, you can complete our online enquiry form and we will contact you.

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