Sharing the Marital Home after Divorce? Some Emotional Considerations to Keep in Mind

Time and time again, clients come to mediation not only because they don’t want the added stress of litigation, but because they also want to save money.  This is especially true when their bleak financial circumstances have already caused them to incur mounds of debts.  In fact, many of my clients come to me with their homes either in foreclosure (or close to it) and/or on the brink of filing for bankruptcy.  These are not easy times.

You don’t need to be a math whiz to figure out that living separately is more expensive than living together.  Instead of one household to support, there are now two which means two rent or mortgage payments, double utility payments, cable and internet costs, and the list goes on and on. Sometimes a couple moving towards divorce, has little or no choice and a decision is made to continue to cohabit in the marital home with the children until the happening of a certain event (for example, when one party has the funds to buy out the other parties’ interest or upon the sale of the marital home after the kids are in college, etc.).  Living under the same roof understandably eliminates the burden of supporting two households and keeps the day to day economics pretty much status quo.

Obviously, the best case scenario in these circumstances, is to somehow divide the living space.  Ideally, if there is the ability to create an apartment of sorts, this should be considered.  Whichever way the living situation is worked out, there are some very important non-economic considerations to take into account.

Before embarking on this continued cohabitation journey with your now x-spouse, there are very serious emotional issues to take into consideration.  First, some ground rules need to be established regarding dating and significant others.  The parties really need to be on the same page with how this is handled.  While it is no mystery that your now x-spouse is either dating or will be doing so in the future, it is one thing to have knowledge of this, and another thing to witness it firsthand.  The latter can really have a significant emotional impact—especially if one spouse is moving faster than the other.

Another important consideration, is the development of a continued dependence upon the other spouse.  By way of example, one of my clients came to me five years after their divorce was finalized.  They had chosen to share the marital home for a certain period of time and now, because the husband was moving out, they needed to negotiate child support. The husband in this case, had clearly moved on with is life and in fact, he was getting re-married.  The wife, however, had not moved on emotionally and still depended on the husband to take care of all of the maintenance issues in the former marital home and to just “be there” when things went wrong or when she felt overwhelmed.  Although they had been divorce for years, when I met with them, it was as if she was going through the initial emotional stages of divorce all over again.  As one of my clients so eloquently described this, it was like taking the band aid off very slowly.

So, while economics may be the driving force behind continuing to cohabit, it is of the utmost importance that the parties proceed with caution and keep in mind the significant emotional impact that this decision may have on them and on their ability to let go, move on, and grow.

Joelle A. Perez., Esq.
Peacemaker Divorce Mediation
(631) 897-2066