Time for You to Leave Kids.  We’re Getting Divorced!

time to leave home

Children are grown up at 18 aren’t they? It seems not, for most Australian families. That is if by “grown up” you mean financially independent and living out of home.

It is often the case when parents divorce that financial support for their young adult children becomes a hot topic, whether that is because there is not enough money to continue supporting the kids in the usual way, or because it brings to light different ideas that parents have about when and what independence mean. Or because it brings to light things that have been swept under the carpet for years.

The Winters Family

Helen and Gary recently separated; they had been married for 26 years.
Helen has a big job that involves travel, and she has moved to a part of the city that is convenient to the airport. Their children, Harry 24, Lauren, 22 and Dana, 17, all live with Gary on the other side of town. He is older than Helen and semi-retired these days, living mainly from his investment income.

Privately, Helen had always thought that Gary was far too indulgent with the kids, especially with the girls. When they separated, Helen decided that she would only pay minimal support for Harry and Lauren, and told Gary that as far as she was concerned they were adults and should move out of home, or pay rent to Gary. He was floored to hear that Helen didn’t support the idea of Gary staying in the big family home with the kids, or at least not at her expense. He didn’t hesitate to let Helen know that he thought her “new” ideas about the kids supporting themselves was very convenient, and that it wasn’t fair to dump it on him to either pay for Harry and Lauren or tell them to leave home.

So who was right and who was wrong?

You already know the answer to that question, right?
Of course Helen and Gary were both as right or wrong as each other, because this was about their children and the life they had lived up until the separation, which the kids were quick to remind Helen and Gary was none of their doing.

What does the law say?

As it happens, the law supports Helen in this case. Harry works, and Lauren has nearly finished uni. She has a part time job, and will be in the full time workforce next semester. The law says that adult children can ask their parents for financial support if they need that to finish a course of study, or if they are living with a disability that requires financial support. The test is about what is reasonably necessary, and that will come down to what an individual judge thinks.

In the case of the Winters, the law has nothing to offer Gary and Helen to help them to have a conversation about what is reasonable, given the way their family has lived in the past. The fact that Helen appears to have changed her tune about their kids living in the comfort of the family home without question, is not something the law can address.

If the law can’t help, what then?

Probably a conversation! And this is what Gary and Helen decided on. Because their sensible lawyers advised that.

And what happened in the conversation?

What was hidden from view with the Winters, is that Helen comes from a reasonably well-off family, but where children were expected to support themselves as early as possible, and where there was no large suburban family home for them to “lounge in comfort” in after they grew up. Gary actually came from a family that lived in poverty. He has been very successful in business, and has wanted to give his kids everything that he never had, and then some.
Gary felt like Helen was taking a cheap shot in deciding that their kids could look after themselves. She had never said that when they were still together, and he thought they had both been as indulgent to the kids as each other.

Helen had for some years felt that she was an outsider in Gary’s relationship with their daughters, and that played out after the separation. She was quite angry and disappointed about Gary having used money to secure the girls love and affection, as she saw it. Harry looked like being collateral damage.

And of course there was much more that came out in the several counselling sessions Helen and Gary had at the suggestion of those same sensible lawyers.

The solution?

Well, it wasn’t about money at all. No surprises there.

Helen and Gary had very different beliefs about why their marriage had ended, who had “called it”, and who should pay the price of that. They had both made assumptions about lots of things, and it was the counsellor who helped them see that.

It was the sessions with the counsellor that meant Helen and Gary were able to patch up their differences about supporting Harry and Lauren. Gary agreed to demand less, and Helen agreed to pay more. The best thing was that they didn’t need to arm themselves with lawyers and argue about section 66L of the Family Law Act (1975), or any other section, or any other Act. It is often said that the law is there if you lack the imagination and common sense to do anything else. (That is often said by me, anyway).

Marguerite Picard
Keeping Families out of conflict and out of court.