Should Spouses Live Together While Their Divorce Action is Pending?

Oftentimes, a divorce action is immediately preceded by a spouse leaving the home, belongings in a suitcase.  Other times, one spouse demands that the other spouse leave and he or she will either leave voluntarily or will only do so if there is a court order.  But, are there reasons why divorcing couples might choose to continue to live in the same house, albeit in separate bedrooms?

Probably the most common reason why divorcing couples continue to live in the same house is economic. It is of course far more costly for two people to maintain two separate residences, while the income used to support both households was previously used to support just one.  While selling the house is a way to generate funds to finance a separation, this takes time, emotional pressure may result in a lower closing price, and oftentimes couples need to better understand their financial future before deciding to sell the house, or it may not be best for the children to have to move.  In fact, if neither parent wants to be the one to ‘walk out’ and possibly lose control over how much he or she gets to see the children, the parents may be at a standstill until post-separation parenting time can be worked out.  Continuing to live together may be more difficult for the children who are painfully aware that their parents are not getting along and may also be aware that a divorce is imminent.  This might be confusing for them, and difficult for the parents to put on a happy face with one another when the children are around.

For the parent who wants to be awarded the house in a divorce settlement, or who wants to be able to live in the house while the proceedings are pending, he or she may be counseled to stay in the house as it is harder to move back in once a separation has occurred.  There is also the potential problem regarding a return to the house to review what items of personal property the departing spouse wants awarded on either a temporary or permanent basis.

The couples who successfully continue to live together will need to maintain open and honest communication with one another regarding expenses, income and financial accounts so that bills are paid and fear of one party depleting assets is eliminated or kept at a minimum.  If there are joint accounts, either party may go in before a case is filed and withdraw funds.  Consider putting a hold or a “freeze” on such accounts until the issue can be sorted out with an attorney and/or through mediation.  If a divorce action has been filed, the temporary financial restraining order that prohibits transfer and concealment of assets will provide some comfort, but it is important that both parties understand the nature and extent of their financial situation.  Each party should be speaking with an attorney to discuss how to allocate expenses.

Parents need to allocate parenting responsibilities while they are living together so that the parents and the children know who will be home for the children, taking them to activities and appointments and arranging meals.  If the parents are able to work out a temporary parenting plan, perhaps with the assistance of a mediator, any negative impact upon the children of continuing to live together will be much reduced.  In addition, the children will start to learn how it will be to spend time with their parents separately, as will be the case once a divorce is granted, or once their parents do separate.

The couple should take the time while they have it to inventory the furniture and personal property in an attempt to allocate it by agreement once the divorce occurs.   This will save considerable time and money later on.  If complete agreement is not possible, lists can be created to define what is agreed upon and what is not.

If domestic violence is involved or if the living arrangement jeopardizes a spouse or the children’s mental or emotional well-being then there is an immediate need to explore legal options for separation to insure safety and protection.

About the Author: Judith A. Fairclough

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