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How an empty nest can present real challenges for Boomer parents

For many Baby Boomer parents, there is no greater moment than helping the last of their children carry their belongings into their first-year dorm for the start of their college career. At this time, they will likely experience a sense of pride in knowing that all of their children are on their way to bright futures, as well as a sense of excitement in knowing that they will finally have an empty nest.

However, family experts warn Boomers that they may experience certain difficulties once this initial feeling of excitement wears off. Specifically, many couples may find it difficult to adjust to this new phase of life, as they have focused primarily on raising the children and developing their careers for the last several decades, leaving only a small amount of time for nurturing the marital relationship.

"It's when people have to look at their identity outside of being co-parents, outside of being professionals and they have to assess, 'Do I know this person sitting next to me? Have we nurtured the relationship?'" said Eli Karam, an assistant professor at the University of Louisville.

In fact, a significant number of Boomer couples have found the stress of an empty nest to be so great that they ultimately decide to end their marriage altogether.

If this seems hard to believe, consider that the rate of so-called "gray divorces" (i.e., those splits involving individuals age 50 or older) has climbed from less than one in ten in 1990 to as many as one in four in 2013.

The good news, according to experts, is that there are steps that Boomer couples can take to help improve their marriage when confronted with an empty nest. 

For example, they recommend that couples take the time to discuss their concerns and expectations before their child moves out in order to establish an open line of communication and ensure that they are on the same page. Other recommended steps include maintaining a healthy balance between "me" and "we" time, creating rituals to strengthen connections, and focusing on the friendship aspect of marriage.

In the event Boomer couples prove unable to work it out and decide to pursue a divorce here in Minnesota, it's important for them to strongly consider speaking with an experienced attorney who can address their unique concerns regarding property division (retirement accounts, home, etc.) and spousal support.

Source: Minnesota Public Radio, "How parents can adjust to an empty nest, avoid 'gray divorce'," August 27, 2013

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