No, children cannot divorce their parents in law. Children can feel estranged from their parents but there is no legal order that can be made to enable them to leave their family.
The only options for children who wish to separate from their parents are:
- Run away;
- Persuade another member of the family or a friend’s family to care for them;
- Make themselves unmanageable at home so that their parents ask for them to be placed in care.
However, there are plenty of adult children who distance themselves from their parents and families. Many choose not to have any contact at all and cut themselves off from their parents completely.
How common is it for a child to distance themselves from their parent?
Apparently the numbers are increasing and some people, such as psychologists and therapists who work with families, have some ideas why. Thousands of individuals have shared their experiences in surveys.
In the UK, family estrangement is common but little discussed. There is a great reluctance to talk about it here. In the US and Australia these issues are much more openly acknowledged and discussed. The US website Estranged Stories and the UK website Stand Alone are rich sources of information.
The reasons for conflict vary, but they’re hardly a surprise. Some adult children have ended relationships with parents due to traumatic childhoods. They were abused (including physical and sexual abuse, neglect, emotional abuse) or grew up with parents who were alcoholics or drug users. Sometimes family disputes are over money. However, in the majority of cases the reasons for estrangement are not so clear-cut. There are recurring themes, however, which repeat in commentary from adult children who have ‘divorced’ their parents:
- “You Weren’t a Good Parent”
- “You Broke Up Our Family”
- “You Still See Me as a Child”
- “We Don’t Have the Same Values”
- “You’re a Toxic Person”
Other labels that are often used are the psychological disorders ‘bipolar’ and ‘narcissistic’ but the labels are often casually applied, without any professional diagnosis.
Is there ever a chance of reconciliation?
Mainly, adult children say that they did it for the good of their families, or for their own good. When asked about reconciliation, answers vary. Some say any attempt at communication is harassment.
Interestingly in an Estranged Stories survey, however, around 60% of adult children said that they would like to be reconciled. The steps cited most often that could affect a reconciliation were apologies from parents, parents taking responsibility, and boundary setting.
Do you need more advice regarding family law? There’s lots more free information available in the family law advice hub.