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When Grown Children Move Back Home

By Chuck Yanikoski

Whether a grown child moves back in with you for your sake or for his or her own sake, it's a big step, and there are numerous issues to consider.

First, it is important to understand the timeframe:

  • Is the arrangement expected to be for a specified period of time, or open-ended?
  • What if more time than expected turns out to be necessary? Will this be acceptable, and will additional adjustments need to be made?
  • If continuing to live together is not a workable option indefinitely, what is the outside date for making a different arrangement?

Second, financial arrangements that are clear and fair should be worked out at the very beginning. If the child is moving in mainly for the sake of mutual convenience and companionship, and neither party is particularly in need of help from the other:

  • Both parties should expect to benefit financially - since it is cheaper to maintain one household than two.
  • If rent is being paid, it should be shared. But if a mortgage is being paid, the home owner should usually receive a rent payment from the other party.
  • While all parties should continue to pay for their own personal expenses, a fair way of splitting shared costs should be found - again, with everyone feeling that they are better off than if they were on their own.

Where one party needs help, it is perfectly fair to put a value on that help:

  • If your child moves in to help take care of you, it might be reasonable to allow him or her to live rent-free, and perhaps even for you to cover some or all of the extra cost of utilities, groceries, and so on. Both parties come out ahead financially: your child gets rent-free living, and you get services from someone you trust at far less cost than outsiders charge.
  • Conversely, if your child is living with you because he or she is financially needy and cannot afford to pay a financially fair share, then the difference can be made up in help with household chores and maintenance.

Additional financial considerations:

  • Who can afford it better? If you are sure you have plenty of money to last for your lifetime, perhaps you can afford to take on a larger share of the financial burden. Or perhaps the opposite is the case.
  • Are there old issues that come into it? All adult families have histories - often ones that involve large sacrifices made, or obligations incurred. If everyone agrees on the nature and scope of these, they can be taken into account. But watch out if people have different memories or are making different assumptions!
  • What about the people who aren't there, especially children besides the one mov-ing in? If you are too generous with one child, it may mean that another child will later have to bail you out. Or if you spend all your savings taking care of one, others may lose their inheritances. By the same token, if one child is helping you out in a substantial way that another child doesn't, the first child may deserve some special consideration - in your will, perhaps, or in some other way. Or per-haps if one child becomes the caretaker, another child or children could help pay out-of-pocket expenses, so as to make a reasonably fair contribution.

It's not all about the money, of course, or even all about fairness. Love and duty and sharing are all part of it, too. But these will flourish better where arrangements are established fairly, discussed frankly, and understood clearly.

Third, just as financial issues should be discussed squarely at the beginning, family dynamics need to be pondered and discussed as well.

Although there is a history that you must take into account, this is also a new situation. The living relationship must be built on mutual respect. The parent(s) should beware of being too parental. The child should beware of being too childlike - or too bossy, either. The best rule of thumb is: treat the other no worse (and preferably better) than you would treat a housemate unrelated to you. That may require forgiveness in some cases, and if so, it must be given - if it can't be given, then it is better not even to begin the experiment.

Finally, there are other practical considerations:

  • If you are still married (or, even more so, remarried), you need to have a long talk with your spouse or partner before discussing things with the child. Parents often have very different ideas about the overall advisability of having a child move back in, or on the specific arrangements that should be made.
  • If necessary, check your homeowner's, health, and auto insurance to make sure that everyone (and everyone's property) is covered.
  • There may be the opportunity for one of you to claim the other as a dependent on your federal and/or state taxes, and save some money.
  • If the child is bringing home problems (such as substance abuse, for example) that you are not really equipped to deal with, just say no. Help arrange for a rehabilitation program, or some other alternative. On the other hand, if there are problems that you think you can help manage, then prepare yourself to do so: look for counsel and other outside resources before your child moves in, and prepare to be a caregiver rather than an enabler.
  • The situation is much more complex if the child is returning home with a spouse or life partner, and/or with children. Such arrangements can still work out fine, even over long periods of time, but it requires more discussions with more people.
  • Consider putting all arrangements in writing. The purpose is not to bind everyone to a "contract," but rather to make sure that the initial understanding is clear, and to have a way to settle potential future misunderstandings if memories become fuzzy.