Separation Agreement: Separated But Sharing Space

December 5th, 2011 - Erin Johnston

Divorce MediationFor couples breaking-up or divorcing, the idea of separation typically means no longer participating in things as a couple, including moving apart and no longer living together. However, for many couples that is not always immediately feasible.

Despite the infeasibility, perhaps the focus on physical separation is not surprising: As a relationship breaks down, the emotions involved are difficult to say the least – tempers and resentments often flare up at the slightest provocation. It is no surprise then that the idea of a couple staying under the same roof despite splitting up seems unwise or even impossible.

Despite the difficulty and ultimate plans to live separately, for various reasons a couple may choose to stay in the same house while they work out the terms of the divorce or final dissolution of the relationship:

  • Parents may want to continue living together to avoid upsetting the children – hoping to lessen the disruption in the children’s lives as the couple works out the terms of the divorce settlement and parenting agreement.
  • Significant economic problems may prompt the couple to decide to be emotionally uncomfortable for a while rather than reduce their standard of living.
  • The marital home may need to be sold before either person can afford to move out.
  • Perhaps a couple simply wishes to have the terms of their divorce settlement determined before making their decision public to friends and family.

Regardless of the reason, sharing living quarters while separated is not a decision to be made lightly as it is not an easy circumstance to participate in, and in some states it can impact the date a divorce becomes final (such as North Carolina).

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Whether a couple is legally married or not, separation or ending a relationship when sharing living quarters can present some difficulties.

When couples decide to remain housemates despite the break down of the relationship, house rules and joint bill payment plans need to be negotiated. Couples choosing to share living quarters, at the very least need an informal but detailed “separation agreement”. Created by the couple, such an informal agreement spells out how they will share space, cover bills, even parent while going through the transition. Such an agreement can be very helpful as it removes ambiguity and creates a structure to operate under.

Whether a formal agreement created with the assistance of a mediator or something just drawn up by the couple, a focus of the separation agreement needs to include how the couple will work together to share space. In other words, the rules navigating the shared living space should be clearly documented to avoid additional stress or conflict during this time.

In addition, If children are present a long term child custody agreement, or parenting plan, may not need to be completed at this point – but a targeted parenting plan during the transitional period is needed. This agreement will help navigate some of the more sensitive issues in the parenting relationship and to ensure that children are not adversely affected by the parental break-up.

Negotiating a separation agreement, even if separated but living together, can make the difference between success and failure when it comes to navigating the transition into your new relationship with each other.

Breaking up a relationship is stressful enough without aggravating the conflicts that prompted the decision to split in the first place.

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