Every marriage, and every divorce, is different. But most divorces have at least two things in common: financial stress and tense relations between the parties. If one spouse is able to move out of the home they shared, some of the tension may be relieved, but the financial stress goes way up with the cost of maintaining two households. For some people, living separately during their divorce is a luxury they simply cannot afford. If you and your spouse cannot afford to live apart during your divorce, interpersonal conflict can make the situation much more difficult for everyone. We’d like to offer some tips for sharing your home during a divorce.
During a divorce, you need a space of your own more than ever. Decide which of you will sleep where, and agree that neither of you will enter the other’s private space without being explicitly invited. You need to know that not only will you have a sanctuary, but that your personal documents and property will remain safe and undisturbed when you are not there. If you are not confident that your spouse will leave your things alone, you might consider getting a doorknob you can lock from the outside. Hopefully, you will not need to resort to that, though, because you both should be able to have a sense of security and peace in your home that doesn’t depend on a lock.
If you watch the show The Big Bang Theory, you might roll your eyes when Sheldon makes a reference to “The Roommate Agreement” that spells out, in excruciating detail, his and Leonard’s rights and responsibilities as roommates. While there’s no need to address every possible scenario, you should address some basics. How will household chores be allocated? What is your policy regarding guests? Will there be agreed-upon evenings on which one of you goes out for a couple of hours so the other can have the house to him- or herself? How will bills get handled? It may help to imagine you are renting a room in your house to a new roommate, and to think about house rules you would want to have in place.
Of course, a situation may come up that you hadn’t anticipated, and you may have to resolve it on the spot. But by anticipating potential issues and establishing expectations in advance, you can eliminate a lot of unnecessary conflict.
If you and your spouse are parents, you won’t, obviously, be the only people sharing the house. You will need to think about how to spend time with the kids. Are you comfortable sharing mealtimes? TV time on the couch in the evenings? If not, it will be even more important to make a plan about the kids having time with each of you.
You don’t have to announce loudly that it’s “your turn” to have the living room or the kitchen table tonight and banish your spouse to “their room.” But you and your spouse should agree, privately, on a schedule by which each of you will be the “lead” parent. It doesn’t mean you can’t both be in the same room as the kids, but it does mean that if someone needs to step away, you both know which of you it will be on a given afternoon or evening. Consider it a transition to sharing custody.
Sharing space with your spouse while you wait for your divorce to be final can be a good way to transition from a romantic partnership to what is, essentially, a business relationship (the business of co-parenting your children). But that doesn’t mean it won’t be stressful.
If at all possible, consider getting a therapist to work with during this time. Much more than a neutral place to vent your emotions, a therapist can help you process the pain and stress of your divorce and envision a better future. A therapist experienced in dealing with divorce issues can also help you develop new and healthier coping mechanisms for both living with your estranged spouse, and eventually, living without them.
If you have questions about divorce or sharing your home with your spouse during a divorce, we invite you to contact Barton Wood to schedule a consultation.