Everything about the word “divorce” conjures up images of division, living apart, and not having to see your Ex. But divorce doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s not always a file-and-flee process. And that means that living together during divorce is a very real possibility for most people. Do you know how to make it work if that’s what you have to do?
There are many reasons that it may be necessary to continue living under the same roof with the person you’re divorcing.
If you’re the spouse initiating the split, you may not be ready to announce your intentions. You may be researching the process or waiting for certain life events to be over. This might include kids’ schooling or eldercare, a promotion, or new job to take place.
If this is you, it’s especially important that you care for your emotional health as you prepare for change while coping with your status quo.
Divorce can also be expensive and complicated, making a physical separation impractical or even unfeasible.
Perhaps your divorce is already in process and you have to live together until it’s final.
Whatever reasons you have for living together during divorce, the experience doesn’t have to be a living Purgatory.
But there have to be ground rules and clear boundaries.
(And there have to be rules for dealing with a soon-to-be-ex who may not follow the rules.)
That may sound easy enough if you are parting amicably and cooperatively. But remember, this is divorce. Feelings, intentions, and loyalties have changed, and the arrangement, however necessary, is likely to feel awkward.
You do have choices, though. And this period of living together during divorce can actually set the tone and confidence for what is to come.
This is especially true and important if you have children still living at home. Their lives are about to change forever, and their sensitive radars will pick up on everything.
After all, they will be thinking about and predicting things about their not-so-distant futures if they know about the divorce. And they will be worried about the stability of their futures if they don’t know about the divorce but sense discord between their parents.
Here are some survival tips from us at SAS for Women and women clients we’ve supported in this situation of living together during divorce. We all want you to know that it is possible:
- Talk with your children. Obviously this has to wait until you have informed your spouse of your intention to divorce (or vice versa). Timing is critical when telling children about your divorce. Just as critical is that both you and your co-parent tell them together. Consult these two SAS posts for details on supporting you through this challenge:
- Take the roommate approach and establish boundaries. You may be living under the same roof, but you are no longer living as a married couple. You are now “roommates” and coparents. Discuss how your home space will be divided so that you each have privacy while sharing common spaces like the kitchen and living room. Move your things to your room and respect that division.
Josie, a woman enrolled in Annie’s Group suggests the following:
“Move into a separate bedroom and claim your personal space. Set interaction boundaries, especially if you’re working remotely. A closed door is a closed door for a reason. Set household tasks in the shared common areas. It hasn’t worked for me, but it might for you. And don’t do his laundry. This was one of the first things I did.”
Establish your psychological boundaries, too:
Says another SAS client, we’ll call Carla,
“I’ve learned to say no to doing things with my husband, like going to concerts, or watching TV, when they aren’t things that I truly want to do. I am compassionate about how this likely feels to him on the receiving end, and work hard to maintain a civil balance. I use the time I would have spent “doing what he wants” exploring what things I actually like to do, like exercise (which has other, side benefits), reading more books (which I pretty much gave up after having children) and making jewelry (something new).
And build your emotional boundaries.
“My husband tends to be angry often, and wears this on his sleeve, so to speak. For me, this has translated into constantly being in fight or flight emotionally, and in the past, I’ve often engaged in his anger by trying to calm him or placate him. I’ve worked hard to remind myself that his anger is about him, and not me, and I’ve put a boundary around engaging in his anger.”
This mutual respect of space and energy is imperative. You will both be working on your own parts of the divorce process. And you will also need to begin the separation process, both physically and emotionally.
Depending on your state, adhering to these separation guidelines can actually affect your legal “date of separation.” And that can affect the division of communal property.
- Have a parenting schedule. Discuss and decide which parent will take care of the kids on what days/nights. This includes preparing dinner, bathing, helping with homework, spending time together. Things that may have always had an uncharted flow now need a calendar.Even though you are all still under the same roof, you and your soon-to-be-Ex are coparents now.Honoring this set-up will show respect for one another while helping your children adjust with confidence to a new family dynamic.It will also give each of you time to leave the house for personal errands or alone time.
- Just the facts, ma’am. Just because it makes sense to set rules and clear boundaries doesn’t mean you are both equally inclined to follow them. If communicating in person, especially about the kids, proves to be contentious, then consider a business approach.
Recently divorced, but reflecting back on her early co-parenting days, Lucy recommends that you use texts and emails to communicate in an unemotional, necessary-info-only way.
“Tomorrow is your day with the kids. Natalie has a doctor’s appointment at 12 and Ben has soccer practice after school. I will leave before dinner and return after the kids are in bed.”
- Be clear about finances. The bills still have to be paid. So be sure that the two of you are scheduling time to plan how the household bills will be paid. Be sure that payments are made on time, as delinquencies will affect both of you. By this point, you should have a financial expert as part of your divorce team. S/he can advise and guide you on matters like mortgage payments and selling or keeping the house.
And “if you have not yet, start your own savings and/or checking account,” counsels Lucy. Moreover, be sure to keep written documentation of everything, as money made and spent during this time will become part of your settlement analysis.
- Practice and embrace a new normal. Despite the awkwardness of living together during divorce, the arrangement does have its advantages. You have the opportunity to model for your children what you want them to see, feel, and trust in their new lives. If they witness civility and adaptability from their parents who are divorcing, they will be less likely to fear what is coming. You also have some time to “warm up” to changes that will soon be permanent.You have direct access to information that will likely be relevant to your divorce preparation.And you have time (perhaps on your soon-to-be-EX’s day with the kids) to research living arrangements for after the divorce.
- Take care of yourself. Self-care may seem irrelevant, even impossible, when your life-as-you-know-it is imploding. But, just like being a model of stability for your children, it’s important that you be a model of stability for yourself. Your physical, emotional, professional, and social well-being is essential as you navigate this time of transformation. Join a book club, take a class, get a good workout in several times a week, or just visit with a good friend.
This is also a good time to establish the support you will come to rely on throughout (and after) the divorce process.
“Stay occupied with things to do. Carve out a little time each week to journal to maintain a clear head. Keep positive thoughts in your head and love and respect yourself.”
C.C., another SAS client recently separated from her Ex, shares:
“Continue to learn, grow and educate yourself. Articles, websites, and therapy can be critically important to giving you the strength you need to live your best life.”
“Find your people, too. Gravitate towards energy that supports you, like Annie’s Group or Paloma’s Group where you’ll learn, connect, vent and stay on track.”
No matter how uncomfortable living together during divorce may be, it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. As C.C. says,
“Always remember your future, your life is within you to live. Take control, hang on tight and you will get to your best YOU someday soon.”
Agreeing to a dynamic of respect and civility will go a long way toward easing this time of transition and its aftermath.
And sticking to the guidelines of a healthy separation-under-the-same-roof will give you a sense that change is happening… and you have control over it.
SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to navigating divorce—on their own terms. If you are considering or dealing with divorce, you are invited to experience SAS for Women firsthand and schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation. Whether you work further with us or not, we’ll help you understand what your next, black and white steps are for walking into your brave unknown—with compassion and integrity.