Living together when you’re planning a divorce

Many couples who are planning a divorce have to endure a period of time when they still share the same home. This uncomfortable and uncertain period could last from as little as a few days to several months. Either way, sharing a home with the person with whom you once had a romantic relationship can be stressful even more so when there are children involved. 

The reasons for sharing a home after deciding to divorce are many and varied. Some couples need time to find alternative accommodation, and some may not have decided which of them will stay in the home and which will move to another. Some couples are not keen to move on until the finances and child custody has been finalised whatever your reason for staying on, you’ll have to plan it carefully to save yourself some emotional discomfort.

On a practical level, couples often need the time to work out how they will fund the move to new accommodation and how they will finance two homes from the same income that they used to finance one. Many couples must agree to sell their home to accommodate the financial needs of two homes. It takes time to put a property on the market and to sell it.

Almost everyone who goes through this uncertain period will find it confusing and emotionally stressful. During this time, one partner might harbour the hope that the other will change their mind and that the relationship can revert to earlier happier days. Still, others may have totally lost the love and respect for the other over the time that leads to the decision to divorce. Couples often fight and bicker as the stressful circumstances take their toll. 

In a nutshell, living in the same home after you have decided to go your separate ways is emotionally draining. You may find that living together has become quite awkward and complex as you navigate your separate ways through a home which not long ago you shared. Regardless of whether you are civil or hate the sight of the other you’ll find the situation strange.

Consult a family lawyer

It doesn’t matter how civil your relationship you should always consult a lawyer before you make any agreement to move from your home. Don’t agree to or sign any financial agreements of custody arrangement without obtaining legal advice. You need to understand the legal implications of any plan before you agree to it. 

How to survive the pre-separation limbo

Set the rules of engagement

From the outset, you need to sit down with your partner and discuss your expectations. This should ensure that there is less likelihood of problems between you in the future. Even if it seems a bit trivial after years of living together, sit down and discuss the details of your interactive plan. You should be specific about the everyday details. 

Make sure that each of you is clear about who is responsible for cooking, cleaning, shopping, and paying for the utilities. Will you share meals together or eat alone?

Discuss how you want to spend time with the children. Will you still continue to spend family time together or will each of you make your own time with the children? You can’t predict all of the circumstances that may arise so you may need to make more time to discuss the details of situations as they arise. 

Decide on a communication strategy

What will you tell your friends and family about the circumstances? You must decide whether to let them know what your long-term plans are or whether you’ll continue to let them think that nothing has changed. Each of you probably needs at least one friend or family member to confide in. Consider the children. Remember that if information gets out into the public domain is likely to get back to the children. You wouldn’t want them to find out that you’re getting divorced from someone else. 

Respect the other’s space

Different people handle emotional events such as divorce differently, so you must respect your partner’s need for space. If your partner snaps at you when you enquire about their day at work, don’t ask any more. You may feel lonely, not talking, but loneliness beats nastiness.

It is always best to keep the relationship as cordial as possible. It is a long road to the end and the two of you have a lot of decisions to make before then. Cordial relations are even more important when you have children as they will feel the effects of the tensions. Unpleasantness now could spill over into the future when you have to share the custody of the children.

Many couples find that they get on a lot better once they have made the difficult decision to get divorced. You need to understand that this is a temporary situation that the deeper reasons for the decision to separate have not disappeared. If you have not told your children that you are separating, they may be shocked, if, after a period of unusual peacefulness, you break the news. So, you’ll have to bear this in mind when finally, you do break the news to them. 

Don’t insist on family time

Separately co-parenting under the same roof is quite okay. Divide your time up, so each of you gets some separate time with the children. It would be good to replicate the schedule that you plan to settle on after you go your separate ways. When you are not with the children get out of the house. Take yourself shopping, go for a run or visit your friends. There will be times when both of you are at home, and this may lead to some conflict. If your child asks for your assistance when it’s not your parenting time you will, of course, help and this could result in resentment. 

Consider rotational parenting 

Let the children remain in the home while you and your partner move in and out of the home according to a pre-agreed schedule. When you’re not on parenting duty, you stay elsewhere. This system works very well for some couples, but most find that this system is stressful and doesn’t work over the medium to long term. Couples using this method can feel as if they have nowhere to call their home. Rotating often also leads to petty arguments at the changeover when one partner feels that the other has not pulled their weight in maintaining the shared home. 

Date discretely or not at all

if you’re dating already, especially if the relationship was the cause of the breakup, evidence of the ongoing relationship will cause undue pain for your partner.

If you’d really like to start dating now, consider the emotional pain that this could cause your partner. You may think that you’re both over your relationship, but know that healing takes time, so it is better to postpone dating for a while. 

This is even more important if you have children. Even if they know about the split, they need time to process it. They are definitely not ready to process the presence of a new partner. If you have to date do it with discretion. Never bring your new partner to the shared home even when no one is there.

Be ready to talk to the children

Children tend to ask simple questions. Make sure that you have clear and honest answers for them. This may mean that you must wait to tell the children, but there is also a need for transparency. If the children are aware of tensions and you are not sharing information with them, they will fill in the gaps with their own answers. These are inevitably scarier than the truth. You may, therefore, find it necessary to tell them about the divorce before you have all the answers. 

Seek help

Most couples going through the difficult pre-separation phase need to speak to someone. Counsellors who specialise in divorce are readily available and can help you to navigate the pitfalls of living together when you are planning to separate.  

Plan to move on as soon as possible 

For as long as you’re living under the same roof, your children will live in the hope that reconciliation between you is possible. Only once you have moved into separate homes can you truly start to rebuild your life as a separate entity.

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