Many conversations about going through the process of divorce begin with one spouse or the other moving out of the family home. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if you end up living with your spouse while you’re going through the legal process of a divorce?
This happens more often than you might think. Often, the reason is financial – the couple can’t afford two households between the two of them, so they stay in the same house while each trying to get their finances in order so that they can afford to live separately. If you plan to sell your house and split the proceeds, you may need the money from the sale before you can afford to live separately.
Couples may stay in the house together while divorcing for other reasons as well. You may want to preserve the family unit for the sake of the children until a particular time – for example, if you file for divorce in October, you may agree to remain living together until after the new year, so as not to disrupt the holidays. Couples may also end up staying in the house together because they simply can’t find another place to go. Even if you can afford to rent an apartment or house (or buy one) if you can’t find one that is close enough to your work or in the right school district, you may choose to stay until you do – especially if you also don’t have family or close friends in the area you could stay with.
For most couples who live together during divorce, the arrangement is less than ideal – however, it’s workable for divorcing couples who are willing and able to do what it takes to maintain a civil and peaceful home. And in many cases, it’s the best or most reasonable option available, at least temporarily. Take a look at how you can live with your ex while divorcing while keeping the conflict to a minimum.
Set the Ground Rules
If you were getting a new roommate, one of the first things that you would want to do is set some ground rules – which rooms belong to whom, which possessions are off-limits for the other person to borrow, how late is too late to play music or watch TV in common rooms. It may seem strange to treat a spouse who you’ve been living with for years like you would a new roommate, but the relationship has changed and the living arrangements will have to as well, even if neither one of you is moving out just yet. Deciding on the new house rules up front can help the two of you continue to share the space peaceably.
Are you going to continue to share a bedroom? If not, who moves to the spare room or living room couch? If one spouse is going to sleep in a common area like the living room, how will you ensure that person has at least some personal space and privacy?
Decide whether you’ll continue to eat family meals together or stagger mealtimes. Come up with a plan for handling any houseguests or special events, like holiday gatherings or birthday parties, that may come up while you’re still living together.
You may also want to set ground rules about dating while you’re still living together. It’s probably better to hold off on any new romances until after each of you have your own living spaces. If you’re not willing to go that far, however, at least work out ways that the two of you be discreet and keep any new love interests out of each other’s faces.
Plan on giving each other plenty of space, even if you don’t think that you need it right now. Old habits die hard – you’re used to eating meals with your spouse, and you’re feeling amicable enough to remain in the same house, so why wouldn’t you continue to eat meals together? But as time goes on, you, your spouse, or both of you may feel less willing to spend that time together and may resent being expected to. Save your energy for times when you really do need to do certain things together, like celebrating a child’s birthday.
Decide What to Tell the Children
What you tell your kids about the impending divorce depends a lot on the ages and maturity levels of the kids, as well as your individual situations. But it’s a good idea to come up with a unified message, as well as some answers to questions that are bound to come up.
Don’t expect your children not to notice anything. Children are very attuned to their parents’ moods and are also likely to notice changes in their routine. Even small children will notice if their parents no longer share a bedroom or if meals with the family become meals with alternating parents. You can save the details of the divorce for later, but an explanation like “Mom thinks she’ll get better sleep in her own room,” may be necessary.
Whatever you decide to tell the children, both parents should stick with it until they agree upon a change. Don’t unilaterally decide to fill your kids in on all the divorce details, and don’t use your children as go-betweens. Remember that you’ll be co-parenting long after you’re no longer cohabitating. Now is the time to work out how the two of you can co-parent in a way that’s respectful of each other and that puts your children’s needs first.
Find a Way to Split the Finances
Finances can be particularly tricky. Should you continue to pay the bills in the same way you’ve been paying? Should you split them 50-50? Should you assign the electric bill to one person and the cable bill to the other? Be fair when considering these questions. If one person has been a stay-at-home parent and doesn’t have a steady income of their own, the other should probably plan on continuing to pay the household bills at least until the other finds a job. If each spouse has their own money but only one has been primarily responsible for the household bills before, the other may expect to take on more of the responsibility, allowing the first to save so that they can eventually move out.
Keep in mind that any savings and assets accumulated during the marriage belong to both of you, even if only one of you was bringing home a paycheck. This is not the time to lock your spouse out of the joint checking account or drop them from your employer-sponsored health insurance plan. Remember also that your children are always going to be your responsibility, regardless of your spouse’s financial situation. If you would have paid for something like new school clothes before you filed for divorce, you can’t decide not to contribute now, especially if you know that your spouse can’t cover it alone.
Living together during a divorce doesn’t have to be miserable, but it will take effort on both of your parts. The sooner the divorce is settled, along with child custody and formal financial divisions, the sooner you can both change the living arrangements and move on with your lives. A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you get your legal documents ready so that the divorce can proceed smoothly.