Guiding Central Coast Seniors: How to Support Adult Children Through Separation

by LukeAdmin

By Jacqui Bilson, Principal Solicitor

No matter how old our children are, any pain they experience is deeply felt. As parents, we are quick to dive into protector mode.

Separations with young children involve an added layer of concern. Grandparents may feel that their relationship with their grandchild/ren has been destabilised and may fear losing contact with grandchildren. Heartache is exacerbated when either side alleges parental capacity or other risks.

Lend a listening ear, but do not add to the fire. Everyone needs to vent, no matter who is right or wrong. Let go of what you believe you knew about the relationship. Every relationship harbours dynamics and intricacies hidden from outsiders. Verbalising feelings, fears and hurts is exceptionally healing. We often dive into problem–solving when encouraging open conversation and flow of emotions is extremely helpful.

When the ex wants to involve you in the arguments: Some family law litigants feel that their ex is not listening to their hurts; they don’t feel heard. Consequently, they reach out to family or friends of their ex to vent their frustrations. An appropriate response is to express that you have listened to the message.

Other litigants may extend their frustrations toward the ex’s parents by making false statements or allegations. Such allegations need to be handled with utter diplomacy. Remember, dance like no one is watching, text and email like a Judge is with you. All communication should be polite and may be read in a Courtroom later.

When the ex wants to befriend you: Many family law litigants are drawn toward the support people of their ex. Be alert to toxic engagement. The goal of toxic engagement is to isolate your child away from having you as a support person by fracturing trust. When in doubt, check with your child about appropriate boundaries.

Practical assistance. A family law matter involves a great deal of organisation. Offer to assist with administrative tasks such as printing or scanning documents, purchasing a diary, and purchasing new school uniforms or other items for the grandchild/ren, child minding, and cooking. Importantly, establish clear boundaries about what you can do. Self–care is vital.

Some family law litigants appreciate someone coming to the lawyer or other appointments with them to take note of the essential points. An extra pair of ears can be helpful. Retaining a supportive role is vital. A dominating support person will do more harm than good.

Parents may assist financially, such as payment of lawyer invoices, payment of funds into a trust account for security of legal fees, and signing as a Guarantee on a law firm Retainer Agreement. Before making such payments, parents should:

  • Obtain independent legal advice to determine whether a formal Loan Agreement or Deed should be prepared.
  • Speak with the lawyer acting in the family law matter to ascertain when repayment of any loaned funds can be expected. Family law funding/finance products are available. These services require a ‘merit submission’ from the lawyer before granting the funding. A parent loaning funds should also require a ‘merit submission’.

Ensure that your estate planning documents are carefully reviewed. If applicable to your circumstances, the exiting family member may need to be formally revoked from any estate planning roles such as Attorney, Guardian or Executor. The separation or divorce will not revoke them from your documents.

Your child may prefer to process and deal with the separation without your assistance for many reasons. Feeling shut out can be painful.

Family law litigants may shut out a parent due to feelings of shame. Shame is a destructive and unhelpful feeling. Our society places a significant inescapable value on relationships, as though someone single is ‘not complete’, ‘might find happiness one day’, etc. These (and many other) societal norms add a deeper level of tangled complexity to the emotions felt during separation. Shame is debilitating; the cure is unconditional love. Remind your child that no matter what they do, whether they are in a relationship or no matter who they are in a relationship with, they are loved unconditionally.

Separation can be disempowering, resulting from being controlled throughout the relationship, or, perhaps, the relationship end was outside their control (or both!). Disempowering experiences may inspire your child to become highly independent and self–sufficient; others may feel very helpless and unable to take control of day–to–day tasks.

For these above reasons (and many more), your child may not reach out to you for support. A golden motto is to ask. Forcing involvement, thoughts, or solutions is disempowering.

The most powerful question is, ‘How can I help?’.

The most healing thing you will ever do is to listen.

The most influential support you provide is unconditional love.

Supporting a loved one through a separation can be emotionally taxing, so you must take care of yourself. Seeking counselling and engaging in self–care practices to ensure that you can continue providing support.

We empathise with the difficulties that parents of family law litigants face. Jacqui, Principal Solicitor at Bilson Law, is happy to answer any questions. Phone 1300 245 766 (1300BILSON) or email for more information.

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