Guide to living together during your separation or divorce
We are now seeing more and more couples living ‘under the one roof’ during and post-separation, often because of circumstances that cannot be controlled or changed quickly, for example, inability to find alternative accommodation, financial pressure or because you want the children’s lives to be disrupted as little as possible.
The immediate questions to consider are ….
- Is this sustainable?
- Is this beneficial?
- Is this delaying and complicating the inevitable?
Whilst ultimately there needs to be a line drawn in the sand as to when you actually separated, sheer logistics and economics can make this very difficult to practically put in place. Separation is now often when one begins sleeping on the sofa or in the spare room, rather than moving into a new place entirely.
So how is this transitional time best managed? What should you do and what shouldn’t you do?
Dealing with the practicalities first….
It is probably more useful to be clear about what not to do if you find yourself living with your ex during separation:
1. Don't exclude your partner from the house
If you're both on the title deeds to your home, you might find yourself on the wrong side of the law if you change the locks and reset the alarm code. Don't disrespect your ex’s belongings and discard things without their permission. This behaviour will only escalate into a fight and feelings of resentment.
2. Don't forget to be child-focused
During this period your children will most certainly be aware of the change and often be confused by it. I cannot express enough how important it is to listen to them and also watch for signs of stress and instability. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to become the favourite parent. If you’re the main caregiver you will more than likely be routine-based and have cornerstones of care. The less active caregiver has the latitude to relax the rules and be ‘the fun one’. It can be extremely infuriating if they then assert they are not getting equal parenting. Use age-appropriate language to gently explain to your kids that you are separating, when you both agree it is the right time. Reassure them of your love and commitment, for more tips around this read about the Parent’s Promise. Remember, your children need to feel that home is safe and secure… not a war zone where mum and dad are always fighting and shouting.
3. Don't ignore the importance of your own personal space
It is so important to establish clear boundaries between you both to prevent misunderstandings and to reduce conflict. You need to rise above judgment and paranoia (for instance finding an opportunity to check your ex’s phone)
- Have separate sleeping and relaxing spaces.
- Divide domestic duties clearly – shopping, laundry, cooking and eating… will you still cook and eat together? Maybe it will be more appropriate to alternate times in the kitchen and meals with the children.
- Have a clear agreement on who pays for what with respect to the daily running of the home.
- Communicate with each other about your personal space and time needs.
- Have regular time outside the home to allow the other some space.
Tip: Remember that if you wish to rely on two years separation by consent you may have to sign a witness statement saying that you lived separately and apart but under one roof. This means that you maintained a separate household and that you do not sleep, eat or do domestic duties for one another.
4. Don't forget the importance of respectful communication
Keep detailed divorce conversations for a neutral place outside the home if possible. Personally, I would often have them in the car (minus the kids) even if it was just parked up. Constantly remind yourself that factual and calm conversations are always more productive and positive than a cheap shot or whinge or complaint. This also applies to extended family. Set the tone that you are focused on co-parenting, don’t encourage taking sides or bad words about your ex. Ultimately remember that this transition period will come to an end and you will eventually live apart, so be resilient and patient.
5. Don't forget to acknowledge your feelings, concerns and fears
Your personal mental health and stability are paramount, not only for your kids but for you to continue to function daily and make the most of your days.
No one will tell you or agree that separation or divorce is easy, but with support and guidance, you can make it as smooth as possible.
Ask yourself these questions…
- What are your triggers for anger or resentment?
- What do you want for your children? And how will you co-parent?
- What do you want for your future?
Once you confront these and have this clear in your own mind you can rationally discuss with your ex and plan a way forward that is positive for the family.
My tried and tested top 5 survival tips:
1. As far as the kids are concerned try to maintain the status quo as much as possible.
Don’t make any unilateral changes without consulting your partner first. Children are secure when they have regular and predictable daily routines and rituals. These now need to be done separately but equally shared if possible.
2. Use a shared calendar for co-parenting arrangements.
This will ensure you are not only keeping on top of events and important dates but that you are also sharing all relevant information to prevent resentment and misunderstandings. The amicable co-parenting app is a useful tool for this as it enables you to schedule shared and private events in one secure place via the co-parenting calendar.
3. Dignity and respect are important.
Remember that your children are watching you. Modelling respectful communication in challenging times is probably one of the best life skills you can pass on.
4. Do not neglect your physical and mental health.
It's important to make time for friends, activities that you enjoy, nature or a night out.
5. Spend your time not lamenting about your current situation.
Instead, focus on planning your new life and how you will forge a positive future. Ultimately, your children will benefit from having two happy and positive parents who aren't fixed on the past.
Children thrive on the kind of dependable order that only we as parents can provide them. Getting the basic arrangements in place quickly is an important step that parents can take to minimise the long-term impact on children and help the process of healthy recovery.
My ex and I separated when our baby boy was two. In the eighteen months that have passed, since the day she moved out of the family home, we have worked hard to heal and grow, both as a family and as individuals.
Perhaps you and your partner have started to make decisions about the future apart now you have decided to separate. Perhaps you’re negotiating or mediating and have become stuck. Maybe it all feels a bit frustrating and you feel like your partner is never going to agree to anything.