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By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
~M. Kathleen Casey
We are living in a more financially stressful economy. Divorce and separation add immediate additional financial demands on an already taxing budget. Home equity, which provided some relief in the past has been replaced (too often) with “upside down” mortgage liabilities. Faced with debt, couples struggle with the question of how will they support two households with resources that were designed for one?
The surprising answer for a growing number of families is to stay together – while they pull apart. This “growth industry” is evident when you do a simple search online for living together after (or during) divorce. There is even an online book being published (Living Together in Divorce by Linda Cole) that directly explores the question. The most obvious reason for this arrangement is money. It certainly saves dollars when your spouse becomes your roommate, conserving resources until the home can be sold (or rent paid until a lease is up). It buys time to develop a plan for living apart. Whatever the reason, it’s a two-edged sword unless couples have the right temperament and a game plan of how to make it work.
The “what can go wrong” list is pretty long and could occupy the rest of this article (and a few more). For couples that “get along” pretty well, but aren’t looking to stay married, there are some suggestions that can help make it work. First would be to develop “house rules.” How would you manage a roommate or boarder? Here are some things to consider:
- Establish separate bedrooms
- Agree on a fair distribution of house responsibilities (chores)
- Agree to carefully respect each other’s privacy
- Come to a temporary financial arrangement (especially for payment of household expenses)
- Establish separate bank accounts and credit cards (mixing can influence divorce settlements)
- Try to agree on time limits for the arrangement (when can you separate and who will be leaving)
- With children the issue is much more complex and beyond this brief article
While living together during or after divorce isn’t for everyone, it is an option (and a bit more popular one) for some.