By Jennifer M. Paine
If you are like most divorcing couples, moving out of the marital home is not only risky (it’s been dubbed one of “The 10 Stupidest Mistakes Men Make When Facing Divorce” by Cordell & Cordell co-founder Joseph Cordell), it is also financially disastrous.
There’s the increased housing expenses, for one thing, plus the burden to friends and family who intend to “help out” for a short time and then find themselves sharing homes for months, a year, or more while the divorce goes on.
Add to these the loss of control over what occurs in your home when you are gone and the uncertainty to children, who naturally ask where each parent will live, and you have one potent situation should you separate.
But, often, the alternative is not that appealing. It is a rare couple that can cohabit peacefully while they are divorcing. Instead, the situation at home feels more like a pot of water ready to boil over.
So, what can you do to avoid the costs and uncertainty of moving out, but make things easier while you and your soon-to-be-ex live together? Try these five tips on how to live together during the divorce process.
1. Set a realistic budget
Your household budget, except for legal expenses, should not be significantly different during your divorce.
It is common, however, for spouses to wonder whether the other is taking extra “cash back” or buying store cards and stockpiling them somewhere to use post-divorce. (Yes, divorce lawyers have seen this happen.)
This is rare, but to allay each spouse’s suspicion of the other, you and your spouse should sit down together and plot a realistic household budget.
Base the budget on last year’s utilities, taxes, mortgage/rent, groceries, etc., and try to stick to the budget as much as possible. Dedicate a space in the home, such as an office file folder, to gather receipts, bank statements, credit card statements, etc., and reconcile them at the end of each month.
Being open and honest with each other about these expenses will save a lot of headache and suspicion in the long run.
2. Respect each other’s space
No, you should not draw the proverbial white line down the center of your home.
But, you should designate areas of the home that are exclusively each spouse’s, such as bathrooms or a living room and a den, and stay out of each other’s space. This way, you will each have a room to retreat to to gather your thoughts without the other intruding.
3. Establish time in / time out
Let each other know when you will be coming and going, and consider establishing “in” time and “out” time so that each spouse can bond with the children without the fear of the occasional (and understandable) argument about something pertaining to the divorce.
The more predictable the schedule, the easier it will be to cohabit because neither spouse will be wondering when the other will “suddenly show up” at home and with whom.
4. Allocate parenting duties
For spouses with children, now is the time to ease them into a parenting time schedule. Pick days throughout the week that will be exclusively one parent’s or the other’s, and try allocating all duties to the parent who has the day.
For example, if you plan to have every Monday as your parenting time day, then every Monday, even while you cohabit with your spouse, you are responsible for school transportation, meals, homework, bath time, etc.
This will allow your children to ease into looking to one parent during the day, before the parents separate households, which itself is a major adjustment for children.
5. Engage in housing searches
Cohabitation should be a short-term solution. Believe it or not, however, some spouses cohabit for several months after their divorce because they did not use this interim time to search for houses.
Whether both of you plan to move or one of you plans to move, engaging together in housing searches will keep you focused on the ultimate result – separating.
Look for homes nearby and ideally in the same school district and community. Find out what the moving spouse needs to show for debt and income to qualify for a rent or mortgage, then structure your budget (see above) and your divorce agreement accordingly.
Though not ideal, living together while you’re separating is often the easiest solution – but skip putting the white tape down the center of the home, and do these five things instead.
Cordell & Cordell:
Jennifer M. Paine is a Michigan Divorce Lawyer with Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims.
Ms. Paine received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.