Divvying Up Kids When the Kids Aren’t Kids

The percentage of young adults living with their parents, step-parents, grandparents, and siblings is up sharply, from 25% in the fifties and 33% in the nineties to 40% today, the highest since the Great Depression. Here’s a story about it from CBS, and another from Fortune.

So divorcing couples who thought their children would be grown and gone by now are finding themselves in the awkward position of negotiating with each other about how to share the cost of caring for a 25 or 32 or 44 year old child who’s able-bodied and thoroughly functional but not yet self-supporting. And they’re doing so without any help from the courts, who view any able-bodied adult who’s reached the age of majority as self-supporting by definition.

I worked with Harry and Florence as they negotiated the issues of their divorce. Their discussions about caring for their 28-year-old son Toby were no more painful than the other issues they confronted, but Harry and Florence did have different points of view. Specifically, Toby lived with Florence rent-free, and Harry thought it was time either to charge him for room and board or to ease him out of her home. Florence wasn’t willing to force this on Toby, though, so she basically agreed to eat the costs of caring for him with no help from Harry.

I had no contact with Toby, so I can only guess at what he’s thinking about all this. It’s tempting to view him as a deadbeat who’s only too happy to sponge off Mom, but I have to think it’s more complicated. Surely this is not what he envisioned for his life, so he must be — at least on some level — grieving over the extent to which he still depends on his parents financially. Florence, and to a lesser extent Harry, are innocent victims here, but it’s entirely possible Toby is a victim too.