It may seem crazy to think that couples who are separated can survive under the same roof; however, it is actually quite common. There are plenty of reasons why a couple who is separated or in the process of getting divorced may decide to continue to live together – generally it comes down to financial reasons or the best interest of the child.
The fact of the matter is that it is expensive to maintain two households. If we throw the COVID-19 pandemic into the mix, there arises a whole new set of challenges, both financial and practical.
So…what are some tips for cohabitating with your former spouse?
1. Be Honest With Each Other
Acknowledge that this is tough. This is likely going to be an uncomfortable time– even for couples who get along. Couples that may have been anticipating being able to live their separate lives may need to come to terms with the fact that living apart may have to wait awhile for financial, logistical, familial, or health reasons. An open and honest string of communication is crucial to make
the complacent nature of your circumstances livable.
2. Set Guidelines For Your House
Though this may sound childish, it is time to put rules in place. Who is going to take out the trash? Who is going to make dinner? Who is going to pay the utilities and who is going to the grocery store for supplies, etc. Setting hard and fast rules prevents surprises and spontaneous arguments
which, especially if there are children involved, is not healthy for any of the
3. Arrange For Your Own Space
This is a huge issue because everyone should feel comfortable in the place they live. In order to achieve this comfort, individuals who share a household may need to set up their own place in the house.
If you are able to sleep in separate bedrooms you will come to find that you are more comfortable being able to go to your own place even if it is in a shared house (this may mean one spouse gets the couch!). If spacing is an issue, create a schedule. Determine who can go into what room at what time. This could be beneficial if for example an individual really wants to work-out and the only room that can accommodate a yoga mat or high leg kicks is a shared space. Also, if you have only one at-home office and you both end up working from home, scheduling would be beneficial to the extent it does not interfere with job duties.
4. Scheduling Time For Children
While you remain under the same roof, ensure that you are making time for your children – whether that is helping them with their homework or snuggling up to watch a Disney movie.
If necessary, divide your time with your children and take turns “caring” for them. This will also allow the children to get used to the idea of separate caring schedules when the physical separation becomes a reality. More importantly, this strategy is particularly helpful for parents who are unable to communicate respectfully with each other in front of their children and for parents who have
vastly different parenting styles.
5. Separate Your Income
Do not continue to rely on a joint income to support yourself even though you are still living in the same house. Separate your bank accounts and have each spouse take turns paying the bills or as mentioned above create a schedule for paying your expenses. Again, this will get you used to life beyond the walls when physical separation occurs after the sale of your home or the decision to move out.
However, do not cut your former spouse off if they are financially dependent on you as doing so may prejudice you. If in doubt, obtain legal advice from a family law lawyer on your financial obligations while residing with an ex-spouse. Similarly, you should not clear out any joint bank accounts or max out joint lines of credit as this money will likely have to be paid back. Generally, you do not want to do anything that may leave your spouse in financial hardship.
6. Avoid Dating
You should not allow any new partners into your house especially for long periods of time. You are asking for an argument or at minimum an uncomfortable situation. There is no sense in adding another individual to what we can assume is already a cramped environment. Take this time to either work on your marriage if it has not completely deteriorated or work on yourself. Again, if there are kids involved, this step is crucial as it can lead to confusion and bias against one parent.
7. Call A Mediator
If you and your former spouse are unable to communicate, talk with a professional who handles communication between adverse parties for a living. Mediators can lay the groundwork for rules that will need to be established once physical separation occurs and can assist couples in setting boundaries for living together under the same roof.
Many mediators are currently conducting mediations via Zoom or some other virtual platform. If you are cohabitating when social distancing is no longer required, it is a great time to get out of the house and go to a neutral playing field.
At the end of the day, you need to do what is in your (and our children’s) best
interest. Living with your former spouse is not ideal; however, from a financial
and health perspective it may make sense on a temporary basis, barring extreme circumstances.