The first step in a divorce is usually for one member of the couple to “walk out.” But increasingly, divorcing spouses aren’t walking out at all – they’re staying put. In fact, it’s been estimated that as many as one-half of all separating couples today live together in the midst of their divorce proceedings. And some couples even live together temporarily after they’re officially divorced.
Here’s a look at some of the reasons for this trend, as well as the potential drawbacks.
The biggest reason for living together during divorce is economic – these are tough times for many people, and it can be difficult to suddenly have to afford two separate households, with separate payments for rent, mortgage, utilities, groceries, and other household expenses. Many couples decide to keep living together for a while so they’ll have time to save up for when they have to start financially separate lives.
This is especially true in areas where the housing market isn’t strong. For many couples, the best way to afford to live apart is to sell their house. But if the housing market is weak, a couple might decide to continue living in their home for a while in hopes that its value will go back up.
Some couples who are planning to get divorced continue living together for a time because of the children. In many cases, the spouse who “walks out” may be the spouse who sees less of the kids, at least for a while, so some spouses refuse to leave for this reason. And some couples want to soften the blow for their children, and provide them with a more gradual transition while maintaining their home routines.
Some spouses might have a strategic reason for staying put. They might want to get the house in the divorce, and believe that they’re more likely to be awarded the property if they’re currently living in it. And they might think that by refusing to leave, they can put pressure on the other spouse to settle the divorce quickly or on more favorable terms, so the other spouse can get on with his or her life.
Of course, whether all this will work depends on the couple and how bad their relationship has become. In many cases, trying to live together can backfire dramatically.
For instance, if a divorcing couple’s finances are difficult, chances are they fought a lot about money during the marriage. They might end up fighting even more if they’re separating but living together.
Instead of just fighting over whether to make a home repair, for example, they might now also fight over who should pay how much toward the cost, with the spouse who doesn’t want the repair refusing to contribute his or her portion. There could be other disputes over all sorts of shared household expenses, especially if one spouse earns significantly more than the other. In the end, the problems caused by these arguments could be more costly than simply living separately.
As for the children, divorce is likely to be distressing for them no matter what. Living together for a while may soften the blow, but it could also make it worse, by creating confusion and delaying their ability to fully adjust to a new family situation. This is especially true if you’re likely to fight with your spouse while you’re living together.
Staying put for strategic reasons can backfire, too. While a spouse might cave in to the other spouse’s demands in order to get him or her to leave, a spouse might also dig in and fight harder, making the divorce process longer and more expensive.
Living together also creates a number of logistical complexities. For instance, will the couple physically divide up the living space? Will each spouse have particular rooms as their own space, that the other person can’t access? And what if one spouse decides to date someone else? Can he or she bring a date to the home?
Finally, you should know that if you’re still living together, even if you’re planning to divorce, you might not be considered “separated” in the eyes of the law – which could affect how a court ultimately divides up your property.
So if you’re wondering, “Should I stay or should I go,” the best bet is to talk to a family lawyer who will help you carefully consider all your options.