Usually, when a couple decides to divorce, the underlying conflict and emotion make it difficult if not impossible for the couple to continue to reside together, and a fight usually begins immediately over who will get to stay in the marital home. But sometimes couples do get along well enough to have a continued co-existence in the same house; or perhaps because of finances simply have no choice. In these circumstances, how should this couple proceed?
First, the couple needs to openly accept that residing together is temporary and transitional, and should begin planning for after the divorce. One of the dangers of residing together during divorce is the emotional delay of acceptance that the marriage is ending and the cohabiting will become two separate households. Delaying acceptance can cause a couple to miss all of the key issues that relate to moving forward, including a proper distribution of property, arriving at the costs of maintaining a separate household and crafting a custody plan.
Second, the couple should begin untethering financially. Draw up a budget of the expenses of the household and indicate who will pay for what. Open separate checking accounts. Determine what funds each spouse has independently and what kind of household that could sustain after divorce, so that each spouse can determine what support might be needed. Begin dividing up, even if on paper, all of the household furnishings. Begin planning for new purchases attached to a new household.
Third, the couple should take care to help the children move from a single household to separate households even though they all still reside together. How can this be done? Preferably, each parent should have designated custody time as the parent in charge. The children should see that mom and dad will not live together anymore and they need to spend separate time with each parent to adjust to that reality. Each family must make its own choices about separate and together time, but too much together will make the actual separation into two households that much more difficult for the children. At a minimum, drawing up a schedule where the children will go with a particular parent for a day or evening, or one parent will stay in a different part of the house, will help children adjust to the idea of separate households and custody time.
While we have discussed some of the concerns relating to living together during divorce, we should mention some advantages. Above all, living together in the same home saves the marital unit a great deal of money, and if the spouses plan wisely, they can use the savings to begin a nest egg of sorts for each to launch their separate household. Staying together in this time period might decrease the anxiety the children could feel about losing a parent and a family, and putting much of the blame on themselves. Living together could also lead to a more collaborative approach to working out the details of the divorce so that the terms might be more acceptable to both spouses.
One big caveat: should the emotional conflict start to rise during this time, it is best at that point for the couple to live in separate households. The old adage “too close for comfort” could become all too real in these situations, and everything positive for the children would disappear in an instant.
If you have questions about residing together during divorce, contact us – we can help.