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Why are So Many Couples Choosing to Live in Same House After Divorce
Is ‘Splitting Up Together (see TV show)’ on Long Island a new trend? At the Long Island Center for Divorce Mediation, mediation in Suffolk County, NY, in the past two months six couples have chosen to get a divorce and yet continue to live in the same house afterward. These couples have decided to share legal and residential custody of the children as well as not separate some of their finances.
Why are these couples doing this? What is motivating them? Will this type of household work for them and their children?
The Divorce Mediation Path to Living in Same House After Divorce
These six couples share many similarities and have overlapping reasons for their ‘Spltting Up Together’ on Long Island.
- Each of these six couples has one or more children still at home with the couple.
- Because of the difficulties in their relationships, each of the ex-Spouses has become deeply attached to their children. Each ex-Spouse does not want to be the one to ‘divorce’ his or her children and live alone.
- Each of these Spouses state that they will experience major frustration and resentment if they end up seeing their children just a few times a week, especially if they are supporting their ex to live with the children.
- None of these ex-Spouses has a serious current relationship with a new partner. Such a relationship might cause distance in their relationship with their children.
- Because of their connection to their children, each of these ex-Spouses have developed a strong commitment to Co-Parenting their children in as healthy a manner as possible.
- Each couple now lives in a really good school district, with accompanying high prices for houses, and high school taxes.
- Each couple can only marginally afford the cost of living in their chosen school district.
- Establishing two separate households in their expensive school districts is impossible for each couple.
- Mostly each couple has mostly found a way to push their own problems with each other to the backburner, including their frustrations, hurts and resentments. This way they can deal well together with the issues around the children.
Examples of Couples Living Together After Divorce
Each of these couples hopes that this ‘Splitting Up Together’ after divorce will work out. On the other hand, they know that there are pitfalls. First lets examine a few couple examples of the ‘living in the same house’ scene, and then take a look at the pitfalls. We will offer solutions to the pitfalls as well. Examples:
Couple 1: Living in House Separately for a Year and Now Formally Divorced – Couple 1 started divorce mediation after a year of living in the same house without acting as husband and wife. The father has moved down to the walk out basement. He has an apartment with living room, bedroom and tiny kitchen. The mom resides on the main floor. When the children return from school, they go downstairs with dad and do their homework, have snacks, and practice their music. When mom comes home, she calls the kids up for dinner. Often the dad joins the mom and kids. He usually brings up his own food, unless he is specifically invited to share. The mom, dad and kids still consider themselves a family. They spend all holidays together. No child or spousal support is paid. Instead, the Couple shares the bills based on the percentage differences of their incomes.
Case 2: Father is Disabled – The has has progressive multiple sclerosis and cannot work. Two children are over 21. In New York, child custody stops at 18 and child support when a child turns 21. The third child is 16. Both parents are very attached to the 16 year old and do not want to disturb his last two years of high school. Thus the couple has decided to stay in the house together until their son leaves for college. The wife, who has a fabulous job, will continue to pay all bills, including the husband’s healthcare insurance. Once their son goes off to college, the couple will put the house up for sale. The husband will get lifetime support plus $400,000 equity in the house plus 1/2 of a 1.75 million 401k.
Couple 3: Dad is Stay-At-Home-Dad – The father, who never did well in the world of work, stopped working when the son was born and became the stay-at-home-dad (except for a 12-hour per week at home job). Now this couple is divorcing through mediation, at the wife’s instigation. While she wants the divorce, she also wants them to continue to live together in the same house. Her reasoning is as follows: she, a very high earner, works from 7 to 7 in the city and gets home very late. Thus she can only see her son on the weekends. The husband in the more logical choice for residential custody. However,he does not have enough money coming in, even with child and spousal support, to keep his son in their chosen school district. Since both mom and dad want to maintain their son’s lifestyle, the mom has decided that she will continue to live in same house as dad and continue to pay the bills. They will live as roommates.
Pitfalls of Living in Same House After Divorce – And Solutions
Now let’s take a look at the 5 key Pitfalls of ‘’Splitting Up Together’ On Long Island’ and then look at some solutions.
Pitfall 1: Children Could Be Harmed By Continuing Parental Conflict – Children could suffer emotionally, behaviorally and socially if their mom and dad, living as roommates, continue their struggles that led to divorce in the first place.
Solution – If both parents learn to effectively Co-Parent their children, they can learn to avoid those dangers. This means that the couple must learn to put aside their usual negative reactions to each other when they are triggered. Instead, they need to treat each other with respect when dealing with any issues regarding the children, especially in front of them. They must learn not to pull at the children and put them in the middle. We offer professional Co-Parenting help as needed. Here is a very useful article on Co-Parenting.
Pitfall 2: Lack of Boundaries in Living In The Same House – During marriage, husband and wife define roles in relation to each other. Maybe one makes Sunday breakfast and the other does the dishes. Maybe one is the critic and the other is always defending. Good and bad, these roles define the marriage. However, they need to shift when the divorce occurs. New roles need to be carved out, with new expectations and limits. Here is an example of the problem when roles are not redefined: One of the male Spouses in our divorce mediation practice expected his soon-to-be-ex-wife to continue to make him dinner, clean the house and wash his clothes. During the mediation sessions, the wife was enraged at the idea. She was not going to ‘live in the same house’ with her ex. with those role expectations.
Solution – The Couples Splitting Up Together’ need to learn to redefine their roles. They need to treat each other like roommates rather than like husband and wife. They need to consciously define their living arrangements and their expectations of each other. They need to decide together who does what when.
Pitfall 3: Couple Continuing Money Struggles – You would think that couples getting a divorce would focus on splitting up their finances. Instead, the couples electing to stay in same house have all decided to continue to pay the household bills the way they had done before. They have all chosen to forego child support and spousal support – for the immediate future. Since some of them had money problems during the divorce, these problems could continue.
Solution – Each ex-Spouse needs to become money conscious, like roommates. That means each needs to know the family bills and keep track of what is coming in and going out. They need to negotiate percentages to put into the common pot. They each then keep their own extra money. This arrangement has worked well for other living in same house couples on Long Island.
Pitfall 4: Problems with Outside Relationships – The problem here is that either ex-Spouse will bring outside romantic relationships into the house without thinking of the impact on the ex-Spouse or on the children.
Solution – The ex-Spouses need to develop clear agreements regarding outside relationships. The couples we are helping to divorce in Suffolk County who are choosing to live in same house after divorce have reached the conclusion that neither will entertain romantic relationships in the house. They have also decided that the children will not meet their outside relationships until they get close enough to want to move out and terminate their living together agreement.
Pitfall 5: When One or Both Want to End the Living In Same House Arrangment – The problem here is that without a Plan to deal with the end of living in the same house after divorce, the ex-Spouses will need to start negotiations all over again as if they had not yet been divorced.
Solution – At the Long Island Center for Divorce Mediation, we get the ex-Spouses to create a Plan B. Plan B is a contingency plan that outlines what happens regarding child support and custory, spousal support, the house, other financial assets and liabilities, pensions, etc. once one or the other ex-Spouse wants to terminate their living arrangements. This Plan is included in the Stipulation of Settlement (divorce agreement) between the ex-Spouses. Plan B will go into operations when one Spouse or another wants to end the arrangement. The Plan includes the steps for termination, the terms of termination and who pays what if the house is to be sold, until it is sold.
Why is Plan B necessary?
- We have found that it is not likely that both ex-Spouses will feel satisfied with their living arrangements over many years. Once they attach to new significant others, the “Splitting Up Together” would probably become awkward. After all, who wants to date a person who goes home to his or her ex-Spouse?
- Is ‘Living Together in the Same House After Divorce’ a good idea for the children? At this point, there is not enough research on this topic to have clear answers. However, we do know that Children partially use their parents as role models, consciously and unconsciously, when they get into intimate relationships later on. How will a non-intimate connection between mom and dad in the same house work for the children as they develop? There are no definitive answers.
- Without Plan B in their Stipulation of Settlement, ex-Spouses will have to begin again to formulate a financial and custodial plan. They will have to go through the divorcing process as if they were not divorced, even though they are divorced.
Summary of Pitfalls and Solutions for “Splitting Up Together on Long Island”
|5 Pitfalls of ‘Splitting Up Together on Long Island’ – ex-Spouses Might:|
|1.||Do Harm to Children by Struggling In Front of Them|
|2.||Argue Over Money Due to Lack of Clarity|
|3.||Show Disrespect and Lack of Role Boundaries|
|4.||Cause Pain By Not Setting Guidelines for Outside Relationships|
|5.||Fall into Major Conflictand Confusion at the End of Co-Habitation.|
|5 Tips For ‘Splitting Up Together on Long Island’ – ex. Spouses Need to:|
|1.||Master excellent Co-Parenting Skills|
|2.||Develop a Realistic Financial Plan|
|3.||Define Roommate Boundaries and Show Respect For Each Other|
|4.||Establish Guidelines for Outside Relationships|
|5.||Develop a Plan B for the Ending of Co-Habitation|
What do you think? Would you live like this? Let us know at 631-757-1554 or by sending an email to //www.lidivorcemediation.com. There, you can read about the divorce mediation process as well as our divorcing services.
About the Author, Dr. Diane Kramer:
Dr. Diane Kramer, Suffolk County 5-Star Divorce Mediator, Psychologist and Co-Parenting Expert, is partners with her husband, Fred Klarer, Divorce Lawyer and 5-Star Divorce Mediator, in the Long Island Center for Divorce Mediation. The Long Island Center for Divorce Mediation offers comprehensive divorce mediation services at reasonable prices at two offices in Suffolk County – Huntington and Yaphank.
Dr. Kramer was a full Professor of Psychology at Nassau Community College for 40 years. She currently runs both her marital therapy and her divorce mediation practices. Her Extraordinary Self eCourses, in partnership with Donna Anselmo of Bold Marketing Solutions, are about to launch on her own elearning platform.
Diane won the Long Island Business and Professional Women’s Center Achiever Award in 2007. She is a member of the New York State Council on Divorce Mediation and of the Suffolk County Psychological Association. Diane has written two books: The Creativity Game (1986) and the soon-to-be-published: Marriage or Divorce: When to Hold and When to Fold.