Empty Nest Divorce: Ending Your Marriage When the Kids Move Out

The kids are off on their own, and you no longer have the pressures of raising a family. You and your spouse are now in the next phase of life. You have time for yourselves to do all the things you’ve wanted to do as a couple.

But what if you now look at each other and find that you’re strangers? Without the kids there, there’s nothing left to talk about. The house has grown quiet, and you’re left wondering if there’s anything really keeping you together. 

Empty nest divorce happens to all kinds of marriages. Maybe you never felt outright unhappy before, but you’re miserable once the kids move out. Or, maybe you stayed together for the sake of the kids and now want to break free and start a new life.

Do you have empty nest syndrome?

When the kids grow up and move out, it can leave you wondering where the time went. You may feel lost and sad. You may dislike the empty silence.

While not a clinical disorder, empty nest syndrome is a valid and common emotional response to this stage of your family life. After years dedicated to raising kids and the daily involvement in their activities, suddenly, you’re left with a big, quiet, empty house … and time on your hands. 

You’re also left with your accumulated years of marriage and all your relationship’s weak spots. With the noise and busyness of family responsibilities gone, any cracks or disconnection that developed during your marriage are now front and center.

Characteristics of empty nesters

  • You may no longer feel like you have purpose. Before this, you were consumed by the whirlwind of dance lessons, soccer practices, and school assignments. Maybe you stayed up late waiting for them to come home from dates. Maybe you anxiously awaited acceptance letters from colleges. And now? It seems like nobody needs you. 
  • You feel empty. There’s a hollow place where all this activity once lived. You used to long for some quiet time to call your own. But now that the house no longer echoes with chatter, the silence feels hollow. 
  • Your emotions are working overtime. You might pull out photo albums of your kids and get weepy. You might miss their voices, so you might call and get voice mail. Or even worse, they say they’re busy and they’ll call back. Then they don’t. 
  • You’re lonely. You have friends, other family members, and your spouse, yet nothing fills this hole. 
  • You’re suddenly forced to focus on your relationship and confront the disconnect in your marriage. You and your spouse are at a crossroads, and you feel nothing but ambivalence.

Stages of empty nest syndrome

If you’re suffering from the pangs of empty nest syndrome, there’s hope. In fact, what you’re feeling right now is only the first (and most uncomfortable) stage of the process. 

Empty nest syndrome has three distinct stages:

  • Grief: Yes, just like losing a loved one, your kids moving on leaves you grieving for the life you knew and were used to. You’re feeling emotional and sad, and everything feels different – because it is. 
  • Relief: After a few months, you become used to the quiet. Perhaps you’ve made some personal changes in your life and filled some of the uncomfortable empty moments with things you weren’t able to do when your days were consumed by kid stuff.
  • Joy: After navigating this new pattern for a while, you start to embrace your time alone to pursue new hobbies and interests. You may feel more alive and purposeful than you have in years.

It’s normal and okay to miss your kids. It’s also normal and okay to move on and create a new adventure for yourself. 

Could empty nest syndrome lead to divorce?

When your kids leave home, it can represent a major milestone in your marriage. 

As parents, you had a common goal when the kids were at home. Once they’re gone, you may find common goals in short supply.

According to research, married partners 50 and older are now divorcing at a rate double that of the 1990s. For partners 65 and older, the divorce rate has nearly tripled. In fact, the “gray divorce” phenomenon isn’t merely anecdotal. It is being studied by many researchers today. 

Why does this time of life, specifically regarding empty nest dynamics, lead to the end of so many long-term marriages?

Loss of connection

Raising a family may have been the primary glue holding a couple together for so many years. When the kids are gone, so is that bond.

Poor communication

During a marriage, some couples inadvertently build walls instead of bridges. Their communication centers around the kids or inconsequential stuff but suffers in the deep communication arena. By the time the kids leave, some married couples are out of the habit of sharing their hopes, dreams, and fears. 

Shifting goals and roles

A couple’s dreams of midlife can be at odds with each other. One person may be looking forward to golf and a peaceful retirement; the other person may want to explore the world.

When goals are diametrically opposed and neither is interested in the other’s vision of the future, it’s tough on a marriage.

To divorce or not to divorce? 

Needless to say, divorce is a life-altering decision. If you and your spouse have lost your connection, consider whether it’s due to the temporary hollowness caused by an empty nest or a deeper lack of communication and understanding. Unresolved conflicts, even ones that have plagued your marriage for many years, might be overcome with concerted mutual effort, desire, and couples counseling. 

But divorce may be the obvious answer if the marriage has run its course. In fact, if you’ve stayed together because of the children, you have fulfilled that goal, and it’s time to let each other move forward. 

Whatever your decision, we have a community ready to support you at Hello Divorce. From online divorce plans that guide you through the divorce process to divorce coaching and support groups, we’re here for you at whatever stage you are at. Learn more by scheduling a free call


Divorce Rates Climb for 50+ Population. Pew Research Center.

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.