Just because American law says a person becomes a legal adult at the age of 18 does not mean they are no longer in need of parenting guidance.
In fact, since medical research reveals that a person’s brain is not fully formed until the age of 25 or 26, adolescents often face challenges and hardships during the seven or eight years between coming-of-age at 18 and full psychological adulthood – BECAUSE they still need a mature adult to guide them.
When developing Parenting Time Agreements, we inform clients that although legal requirements to your children end at 18, we recommend continuing to plan and provide for your kids well beyond that age. Co-parenting continues well into young adulthood – and even moreso for parents of children with addictions, developmental delays and other caregiving concerns.
In Collaborative Divorces, we create a children’s budget. Both parents contribute set amounts every month, and we articulate what items that budget will cover – it could include cell phone bills, car insurance, health insurance, college costs or more!
Of course, the first step is recognizing that your kids still need you after they turn 18. Once you both agree to that idea, you then must agree to continue co-parenting even though it’s not court-mandated.
Plenty of parents think they’re done, free and clear by 18 – but you CAN choose to continue to support your young adult kids if you believe it’s best.
And we definitely do.
The worst types of parental alienation take place inside divorces that occur when the kids are teens or out of the house.
Many parents think they can talk to their kids about the divorce once they’re legal adults. However, teens and young adults don’t want to know the details of their parents’ marriage or breakup!
It’s never fair to ask kids to take sides, even when they’re grown. In the no-man’s-land time between youth and full adulthood, it can be especially damaging or confusing.
Parenting becomes more complicated when a kid is 18+ because you’re trying to get them moved into apartments, packed for college, or prepared for interviews and internships. They are dipping their toes into adulthood, and need you by their side for support and advice.
If parents are not on the same page, kids can receive confusing messages. This is the time when parents help young adults build confidence. It’s hard to build that confidence when you receive mixed messages from warring parents.
Of course, there are times to have direct relationships with your teens and young adults, and times when you should coordinate with the other parent to spare kids the burden.
The cerebral cortex of the brain, which covers decision-making, is not fully formed until 25. That means adult children face life decisions without complete ability to make them. They need you.
Divorce After The Kids Are Grown
For kids who haven’t had any experience with a parenting time schedule, it can be hard to figure out whose house to spend time at or how to go back and forth.
Make it easy on them. Asking them to choose catches them in the middle of your breakup.
No parents want their kids to become ping pong balls between them. That can happen when parents don’t have a plan for how to divide time and expenses for children over 18.
One couple decided to split every expense they agree on 50/50. That means they agree to discuss purchases before buying anything.
How will you handle plane tickets for your kids to come home for holidays or return from school? Who will help buy items for a first apartment? Pay for health or car insurance? College tuition? New clothes or shoes?
Many divorced parents argue over who pays college tuition – not just parents who divorce when the kids are older. It’s not often included in divorce details and anyway, it can’t be enforced by a court, so these types of decisions depend on both parents being willing to agree to work together once the kids are grown.
Clear Communication Helps Your Kids
In some divorced families, not communicating means either buying double or nothing at all. Think about moving a child into a dorm room. If you don’t have a conversation about who’s purchasing a comforter and sheets, are you sure that anyone will?
Collegial co-parenting starts with YOU. Yes, that’s right – you can’t wait for your ex to chart the course. If you want open communication and to work together, you can set the tone for this to happen.
Be proactive. Initiate a conversation about how long you will agree to keep providing and covering expenses. See if you can set up an account to which you both contribute monthly – and agree on a set amount and what the funds will cover.
Also, set an age by which you’d like to finish this support. If it’s 25 or 30, any monies left in the account could help your child with a wedding or first house!
If you have different philosophies about how soon an adolescent should be self-sufficient, strive to meet in the middle. Many parents think kids should pay their way through college, but with soaring college costs, that is next to impossible these days – without the guidance of fiscally responsible parents urging kids to attend local schools where in-state tuition is more affordable.
In fact, in most cases, any loans an adolescent qualifies for likely require a parent to co-sign – so you’re on the hook for payment, anyway!
In the end, accept that you’re not done parenting when they turn 18. At least, not if you want to set your kids up for success.