As you’re probably more or less already aware, custody and visitation of children – whether as a standalone custody case or part of an underlying divorce action – really only deals with minor children. In Virginia, child support ends when a child turns 19 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs first, and you lose the ability to file petitions related to custody and/or visitation from the time the child turns 18.
In fact, sometimes, when we have 16 or 17 year olds, we tell parents not to even bother – whether because we can’t really get a final trial date before the child turns 18, or because, even if we do, the existing order will only be in effect for a few months before the child becomes an adult, anyway.
Of course, everything related to custody is fact-specific, so it really depends on what, exactly, is happening in your unique case. In the case of, for example, a disabled child, it is possible that child support could continue past the age of 19 or high school graduation. That’s especially true if child support was established prior to the child’s 18th birthday.
After 18, though, you’re more or less on your own. At least, the court isn’t going to be there to help you. And, anyway, you may be relatively powerless to do anything, anyway, since your child is no longer a child and can decide for himself or herself where he’ll stay or who he’ll spend time with.
Additionally, college support is not something that judges in Virginia are able to order, unless the parties previously negotiated in a separation agreement that they would share college costs according to some predetermined plan.
All that to say that, after the age of 18, there’s really nothing legally that can be done about custody and visitation.
Still, a divorce is an important event in the life of a child – even after the child has long since stopped actually being a child. In fact, many psychologists seem to believe that divorce is even more traumatic for young adults than it is for young children.
It does make sense, if you think about it. For a 5 year old, for example, they grow up not really knowing any different arrangement. They’ve always alternated Christmases, or spent summers with dad, or done visitation exchanges at the police station. It’s normal. Even in high conflict cases, there’s an element of normality there.
For young adults, though, their entire world is breaking up, and they have no frame of reference for it. It can be even more difficult, and they can struggle to find a new normal, especially since their own adult lives take priority over reconfiguring, for example, the extended family Christmas holiday.
If there’s nothing I can do legally for my grown children, what options do I have to make the divorce or separation easier for them?
It’s smart that you’re asking. Even though I can’t file petitions and the judge won’t specifically order that you alternate Christmases (or insert whatever other important event here), its important to consider the impact of your divorce on your children.
Grown or not, the thing most children want to hear is that the divorce is not their fault, that you and your ex will figure it out, and that, grown or not, each child is loved and appreciated. You might even go a little further in the case of an adult, and explicitly state that you were not waiting until you had an empty nest – since that’s something that I hear often from adult children whose parents divorced. Like, are they responsible for their parent’s unhappiness? Even if they didn’t know they were unhappy at the time, were they suffering through all of that for their sake? It’s a lot of guilt to bear.
To the extent possible, remove that burden from their shoulders. Even if you and your ex are not on the same page, you can handle it the best way you know how and with the children’s interests as your primary concern.
You might even consider family therapy, with or without your ex. These are difficult issues, and you want to work through it all, so why not get a little extra professional help?
There’s no manual for this, just like there isn’t in so many other important areas of life. But that doesn’t mean that custody and visitation still isn’t important!
After all, you want THEM – the kids, I mean! – to VISIT you, right? You don’t want them NOT to list you as an emergency contact for your grandkids, right?
Because there’s births, and weddings, and graduations, and birthday parties, and baptisms, and holidays, and so many other incredibly important events still left to enjoy in life. With your kids – and your grandkids, whether future kids or present kids – and their spouses, and extended family, and neighbors, and coworkers, and all the other people that, up until this point have been important to you and your family.
And your ex? Well, you can’t control him. He’ll do what he wants. If he wants to be involved in family therapy or in working through the complex emotions that the kids have about the divorce, then great. If he doesn’t, that’s fine too. At the end of the day, all you can control is you anyway, right?
There’s no custody and visitation in a legal sense, but that doesn’t mean that this time is just as important as it is in a case where minor children are involved. Take care of your adult children – they need you too!