Empty Nest After Divorce


With more and more divorces happening in midlife or late life, that frequently means that empty nest and divorce are happening at the same time more often, too.

Midlife Divorce occurs when we are experiencing other big life losses:

  • Our physical bodies are changing … menopause for women, lower testosterone for men.
  • Our work life changes … we may experience forced retirement or feel edged out of our career or workplace or are not needed as much at home.
  • Our parents may need us more or be getting sick and perhaps dying.
  • Our children leave home to start creating their own new lives and dreams.

Judith Viorst calls these life challenges as “Necessary Losses” in her book by that same name, a very comprehensive look at the losses of our lives, and how they help us grow. She is also the woman who said, “If my husband is late coming home, and I wonder if he is dead by the side of the road or in the arms of another woman, I always hope he is dead by the side of the road.” (Most women whose husbands have affairs can identify with that!)

Especially for “Stay At Home Moms” (SAHM), who experience divorce and Empty Nest Syndrome at the same time, the hurt and loss are magnified. They feel unnecessary to their children and discarded by their husband. While he moves on to a new woman to cope with his own midlife challenges, the kids are exploring exciting new lives of their own. The woman who is experiencing divorce and an empty nest is often the only one feeling that cold, terrifying avalanche of loneliness and loss.

The combination of divorce plus empty nest is a tornado in the middle of your life that is sometimes hard to survive. For many women in midlife, starting a new career this late in life is a monumental challenge. Couple friends call less often or disappear. Women who contact Midlife Divorce Recovery are often struggling socially, emotionally, physically and financially.

Research shows that 25% of women who experience Gray Divorce, live below the poverty line. Many barely make ends meet as their ex-husband may still have his successful career and may have joined forces with a younger woman who contributes to the bottom line of his new marriage. Read more: my ex-husband is getting remarried.

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Coping With An Empty Nest and Divorce

It seems like not long ago we were welcoming babies into our family for the very first time. The next thing we know, they are moving into a dorm or their first apartment. We all know the Empty Nest comes eventually, but often we are so busy being parents that we don’t consciously think about what comes next after our kids leave home.

One other warning: When the Empty Nest describes your house, it is not just your children you miss. You miss all of the activity and friendships that you experience through your children. Going to swim meets or track meets or musical programs. Attending back-to-school nights and special functions at the school or at church. You miss the interaction with their friends, and their friends parents, too.

Empty Nest Syndrome is a major life adjustment, and most of us don’t think about how we’re going to cope until we’re actually sitting alone in the kitchen thinking, “What do we do now?” Getting divorced at the same time changes absolutely everything about the answer to that question, and it is getting more common every day.

For me personally, coping with a divorce, an empty nest, less money and fewer social connections was devastating! Trying to cope with all of that change all at once is exhausting and overwhelming.


Below are a few ideas to start with right now:

  • Figure out the finances of your empty-nest-post-divorce life. This is a real challenge when you are probably operating on way less money than before your divorce.
  • Get healthy! Get strong physically. You’ll need physical stamina to get through this.
  • Grieve and heal. This takes time and energy – be patient with the process.
  • Start thinking about what you want your life to look like as you move forward. (This is probably totally different than what you wanted when you were still a couple.)
  • Develop your own interests and friends apart from your children and your ex-spouse.
  • Reconnect with friends, family and social groups in a more deliberate way.
  • Remember, you will get through this and your life can be good and full and fun again!

Empty Nest Divorce Rates & Statistics

Statistics are proving that divorce and the empty nest often go hand in hand. Many couples consciously choose to stay together until the children are out on their own. But for far too many, a mate asking for a divorce at the same time kids are leaving home is totally unexpected. I talked to a woman recently whose husband left a note in the kitchen saying, “I’m done.” After 25 years of what she thought was a good marriage, she was shocked and devastated beyond describing.

Renee Stepler from the Pew Research Center gives us some of the numbers on midlife and late life divorce.

“At a time when divorce is becoming less common for younger adults, so-called “gray divorce” is on the rise: Among U.S. adults ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has roughly doubled since the 1990s.

In 2015, for every 1,000 married persons ages 50 and older, 10 divorced – up from five in 1990, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau. Among those ages 65 and older, the divorce rate has roughly tripled since 1990, reaching six people per 1,000 married persons in 2015.”

With the surge in divorces for those 50 plus, the empty nest puts couples at higher risk for divorce than ever before.

In my midlife divorce recovery work, I hear from women who were so looking forward to having more free time to get re-connected with their spouse when the children left. Many were eager to have more time to travel, re-focus on themselves and each other, and find new interests to share. Then, out of nowhere, they are told by their husband that he wants out … often that he hasn’t been happy for years. It’s like a bomb exploding in the middle of your empty nest life.

Empty Nest And Divorce At the Same Time

Often, parents on the brink of divorce stick it out until their last child leaves for college (Finally, the kids are launched!) While they may have been planning this for awhile, parents think they are doing their children a service by waiting until they leave home to break the news. (A terrible idea!)

I was speaking at an International Conference at Pepperdine University a while back, and I arranged to speak with a man who counseled incoming freshmen at the school. He said he was seeing more and more kids coming to college in the Fall, and soon after arriving, getting a letter or a call from their parents saying they had decided to divorce.

He said that this was the worst possible way to send your child off to school! Kids who are struggling to adjust to college, suddenly feel abandoned and unsteady when they should be excited as they start this new stage of their life.

I can see the wisdom in wanting to wait until the kids are launched before you divorce, but do not pretend that everything is fine before they leave and then smack them in the face with your divorce after they are alone at school for the first time. They feel betrayed and wonder if there is any solid ground anywhere.

There are several things we can do when children are about to leave home … and we are faced with divorce at the same time.

My youngest child was the only one still at home when we first divorced. He was in the middle of all the mess for the 3 years before we actually divorced, and he left for college the next year. He was fully aware of what was going on. I was still terrified that he would worry and feel guilty about leaving me alone, and that would negatively affect his experience at school.

We must reassure our children that even though we will “miss them like crazy!” as I told my son, I wanted him to know that this time while he was away at college would be good for both of us. It would give him a chance to get away from all of the divorce trauma and drama, and it would give me a chance to grieve and heal and move on without worrying how all of my readjusting was affecting him.

Remember, our children are NOT responsible for our happiness. They need to know that we are getting help and working on what comes next for us. They need to know that we believe that our life is going to be full and fun and good! They need to see us joyfully embracing life again.

Does An Empty Nest Cause Divorce?

The Empty Nest does not cause divorce, but things drastically change when our children “fly the coop.” We might not have addressed issues that were troublesome to our marriage. We might have been so busy keeping up with all of the activities and responsibilities of parenthood that we neglected our relationship as lovers, friends and husband and wife.

Also, especially when mothers were stay at home moms, they are no longer needed in such an immediate way by their children. They feel a loss of meaning and direction. However, many women see this natural progression of events as a great time to explore their own interests, and look forward to less pressure and more free time.

Most men still have a job to go to and don’t feel the same void that their spouse might feel. There is not the same drastic change. Some spouses want to slow down after kids leave home. Others want to be a little crazy and wild and get more involved in things that they’ve always wanted to do, so they push the fast forward button to make up for lost time.

If you’re reading this, you are probably experiencing a divorce and an empty nest at the same time. We know how hard that is. Try our FREE 10-Day Divorce Recovery Crash Course for 10 days of encouragement and to find out more about who we are and what we do.

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About the Author:

Suzy developed Midlife Divorce Recovery as a safe refuge for people healing and surviving the overwhelm of divorce. Starting her first RADiCAL support group in 2003 she's been helping women navigate the journey of divorce ever since.


  1. Kim February 13, 2019 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    Yes divorce for me coincided with empty nest, moving again, and quickly retirement and all the experiences of not recognizing the person in the mirror that aging bodies bring. After 35 years including raising 4 children, five major moves, issues of autism with one son, the X and X father-in-law, eating disorders with one daughter and all the driving, college moves, activities and appts. that I did the driving for, now I am faced with a quiet yet cozy home in a place I have long wanted to return to.
    I am thankful that I’m ok financially and know well how to manage finances, house and car care, all the maintenance of everything. I can’t think of anything that truly frightens me. My Father died when I was 16 so I learned planning is important and leads to less worry. I have everything organized and in order and I have one more appt. to change my basic will to a revocable trust. I quickly changed everything including reverting to my maiden name when the divorce was final. I made sure to get the X name off any beneficiary listings on will, insurance and all accounts. I am thankful for the legacy from my parents of the sale of our family farm which the X could not touch in the divorce as it was in my name. My divorce attorney was a calm bulldog who held my hand through the settlement back and forth.
    I’m now at the waiting to see what is next stage. I am close with one daughter even though she is far away. All my children are far away and trying to live their lives which is what I worked so hard to prepare them for.
    But I did not prepare myself to be quite this alone late in life. I never planned or dreamed of the scenario I am living. Some days are lighter than others but often it all just seems like more heavy lifting and trudging and treading water.
    After a 7 yr. break I have adopted a 3 yr. old dog. It is good for both of us. I joined a community chorus and only commit through concert in 3 mos. Will be doing a necessary bathroom gut and remodel soon. And once my interest income bounces back a bit I will travel more. I hike and walk a lot and keep in touch with far away friends. No close friends here yet though. Still weighing the emotional output to start church attendance again. I’m sure I could be a help to others but really don’t want to be subject to judgment or indulging the curiosity of strangers. God’s presence is daily not just in church. And I try to hold hands with Patience and Humor most days.
    And I am finding support with the MDR community. Helps me feel understood and less alone.
    Thank you for this blog post. Peace.

  2. Amy G February 13, 2019 at 9:27 pm - Reply

    After 25 happily (I thought) married years together my wasband told me 9 months ago he thought we’d be happier apart. Not mutual. Flash forward, I begged for counseling (he refused), I discovered another woman, he lied and denied but the truth came out. Divorce final and, not even 4 months later, he moved her in (to “our” home). All while I was dealing with the Perfect Storm–midlife, menopause, weaning off “happy pills”, and empty nest. And here I am. Promising myself not to become the bitter ex, to move on, happy. Getting there, one day at a time. Thanks for the blogs and articles. They help and it’s nice to know there are others who have survived the same and want to help

  3. Tiffany April 25, 2019 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    My ex was a pastor who worked in the church for free and worked full time at a very good career. Around our 18 th anniversary I got lyme and 12 years later to sick to work. He lost his faith in God, met a runner who could keep up with him and still with her six years later. Both left spouses for each other. My kids are out of the house, I’m to sick to work. The grief is horrendous because I can’t focus on work and can’t work, so the emptiness and loneliness is unreal. I’ve had three neuromas in my head. The lyme messes with my head and have nerve damage so I live in pain. He has someone, where I can’t, no one dates someone sick for long. It’s like living in a cage while everyone has a life but me. When my ex left my son turned to heroine. I had feel in love and he died in a car wreck. So tell me , how do you get past it all? Days my mind is clear I have flashbacks as if I was still married a week ago and it’s been six years now. People are selfish and cruel. I dedicated my whole life to my husband, his interests, homeschooled my kids nine years and volunteered in five to six different things took my kids every where they needed to go. The lyme treatments are painful and terrifying at times. And I feel like a leprosy reject lol. It’s been the scariest thing I’ve ever had to face. Was raped by a trusted friend… I’m not the person I once was, anger and resentment and a feeling of hopelessness and loneliness because of how lyme affects me. No one should be where I’m at and no one gets it. They humor me. Even the psychologists say they don’t even begin to know how to help me because the layered trauma. And I can’t help thinking if he had been an honorable man, none of this would have had to me but lyme , and I’d at least have someone and not feel so alone.
    And the betrayal I feel when my kids accepted the woman my ex cheated on me with and is still with.

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