THE BLOG
22/10/2013 13:17 BST | Updated 22/12/2013 05:12 GMT

Family Ties, Adult Children and the Strain on 'Silver' Divorce

Each year, the Office for National Statistics issues figures recording the incidence of divorce in England and Wales.

For those of us family lawyers tasked with trying to help people whose marriages have sadly fallen apart, the numbers often provide confirmation of and broad context for the sort of developments which we witness at close quarters.

The ONS material, though, is more eagerly scrutinised by social commentators trying to establish patterns in how the British family is constantly changing shape.

Last December, more weight was added to one of the notable recent trends. Sifting through the ONS's data, it was possible to see that, of the 117,558 divorces in 2011, close to 37 per cent were accounted for by separations involving individuals aged over 45.

That same tranche of material also revealed that divorce among the over-60s had almost doubled in the space of a decade.

The picture was clarified by further data published in August which showed that there were 9,439 divorces where the husband was over 60 in 2011, up 73 per cent in two decades.

This growth in so-called 'silver splits' continued a gradual increase which has become evident over the last decade. It has, in part, been fuelled by couples choosing to marry later than had been the case in previous generations.

There is an additional complication, though, which myself, my colleagues at Pannone and peers at other law firms have detected in many of those divorces which fit into the 'silver split' bracket.

More than half such break-ups are made longer and more acrimonious by the involvement of couples' grown-up children.

In taking sides - most often, it seems, with mothers who they feel have been abandoned - they can express opinions which are so forceful that they sometimes serve only to drive even more of a wedge between their parents, making the process of settlement more difficult.

It's not as though any such divorce hinges on what they have to say. Unlike dependent children, whose wishes and welfare are taken into account in finalising arrangements about how parents go their separate ways, the views of adult children often have no bearing on the outcome - unless, that is, they have a vested financial interest in a family asset.

Incidence of their getting involved has increased in line with the numbers of 'silver divorces' which family lawyers have been witnessing in recent years. It also tends to be one-way. Rarely do we see parents trying to influence how their children's marriages are dissolved and assets divided.

Children, of course, don't necessarily set out to cause trouble in such matters. I believe that a fundamental element in what is happening is their own distress and discomfort with seeing their parents break up.

On occasion, their initial upset recedes once they see that there will not be a reconciliation. Then, it becomes a case of making sure that mum receives a fair settlement.

The role of their own financial position in mellowing tempers cannot be overlooked either. Whilst some children feel that mum or dad's new partner might pose something of a threat to their inheritance, they come to acknowledge that continuing to aggressively take against their fathers could potentially lead to their being cut out of wills altogether.

Whatever the prompt, the cooling or removal of tensions is a welcome development any time they appear in a divorce. The process can be sensitive enough without additional aggravation. Straightforward, swift separations can avoid lasting family divisions.

Maintaining good relations is important, no matter how old a divorcing couple is. It may particularly be one of the few silver linings of any 'silver split'.