House Rules: Divorced But Living Together

July 21st, 2010 - Erin Johnston

Divorce MediationThe economy and the real estate market have left many couples struggling financially.  Couples that have decided to separate or divorce may find the possibility of financing two households difficult if not impossible.

Many couples have opted to separate and begin their divorce process while in remaining in the same house.  This is not new idea, but increasing financial stress means some who would never have considered continuing to live together in the past are seeing separation and divorce* while remaining in the house a very real necessity.

Even in the best economic times, some divorced or separated couples choose to share living quarters because of their children.  Perhaps it is a means of easing the transition for the children as well as themselves – temporarily or for the long term.

Some couples are considering privacy aspects of their split.  Perhaps they work together and want to adjust to the changes in their relationship on their own before they announce the divorce to their professional or work colleagues.  These couples may experience continuing to live together a means of controlling how they are going to let others into their private life.

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Regardless of the rationale or the circumstances, separation or divorce is always difficult, as breaking up was not the intended outcome of the relationship.  Being in the same house can make it even more stressful and unpleasant. Despite this, although being divorced and living together in the same house can be difficult, it is not impossible nor destined to be a bad arrangement. But the couple must act to ensure a circumstance of mutual respect.

Setting up some clear rules at the onset of the separation is important.  Rules should provide structure for how the household will operate, including:

  • Division and use of space. Issues to consider include how the couple will share the kitchen, bathrooms, cars, shared living areas and bedrooms. In addition, a separated couple living together should discuss how they will be using the space – how they will socialize with others and how they will structure activities that are a source of conflict for the couple (such as smoking, alcohol use, playing video games, having certain people over, watching television or using the stereo).
  • Division and use of household items. Issues to consider include how the couple will share the computer, television, home entertainment items, other household goods, toiletries and food items.
  • Division of labor. Such as: cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, payment of bills, taking care of pets and yard care. This can require some detail as to expectations. If both persons are responsible for cleaning their own dishes, but one person cleans up after each meal, while the other person leaves the dishes to stack up, there is likely going to be ongoing conflict about the kitchen.
  • Time with and responsibility for pets.
  • Parenting time with children. This should include specific time with the children for each parent as well as dividing up parenting responsibilities like who is going to drive the carpool or taking a child to soccer practice.

When couples opt to live together while going through a divorce or separation, it is important for them to view themselves as living separately even when living in the same house. This assists the couple in defining their split and moving forward. If a couple chooses to divorce the focus should be on moving forward with as little conflict as possible, versus creating additional sources of conflict.

Finally couples should be sure to address the day to day issues completely in their divorce or separation agreement and parenting plan, as well as scheduling a periodic review and method of future decision making regarding the arrangement.

* Not all states allow divorce when a couple shares living quarters. It is important for couples to know the rules for their jurisdiction.
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