Separation and divorce are often emotionally charged, and that can be made so much harder when couples are forced or choose to continue to live together during the divorce process. There is no official guidance on post-separation living, but your divorce lawyer can help couples reach working arrangements, says Sofia Louca Associate Solicitor in the Family & Divorce team.
Once the decision to separate has been made, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by what could follow, and thoughtful advice from the outset is important.
There are many reasons why a separated or divorced couple may choose to continue to live in the family home – a decision made a little easier following the introduction of no fault divorce in 2022 where one party no longer needs to point the finger of blame, minimising animosity between the parties.
It may be a mutually agreed decision to provide a stable environment for the children, a temporary position whilst finances are agreed, or, perhaps more common today, because of the cost-of-living crisis with the affordability and limited availability of suitable new homes. Maintaining two separate households whilst still negotiating how to divide the marital assets can prove very difficult.
Whatever the reason, it is important for both parties to agree on how such arrangements will work and what happens if things do not quite progress as planned. Where children are involved, it often pays to be open and honest with them – they pick up and understand more than perhaps separating couples realise!
Under the same roof
It may sound obvious but giving each other space in the family home will be important. That will, naturally, mean separate bedrooms but also space to work and relax. This will be easier for some couples, where their home is spacious, or even has an annex or separate section. Consideration as to how the common areas of a home, the kitchen for example, are used and shared should also be agreed.
It will be necessary to accommodate each other’s needs whilst living together under the same roof. Minor irritations can quickly escalate and both parties will need to be aware of their behaviour towards each other and how to respond to those challenging situations. Accordingly, it is often helpful to approach living in the family home as if you are living in two separate homes.
Consideration should also be given to the fact that the parties might be going through the process of disclosure of their finances and negotiations whilst living under the same roof. Emotions can be high during this time, and it is important that they each recognise this, by giving the other the time to digest the information provided or an offer for settlement made. The aftermath can often lead to difficult situations which can affect the process.
Prioritise your children
Children are far more perceptive than most parents realise. Depending on their age, they can quickly pick up on any tensions in the household, feel the push and pull between the affections of parents, and be unsure how they should respond.
Every child is of course different and will respond to their environment in different ways, meaning there are no hard and fast rules on how to approach children when divorcing. Parents should remember that children want security, comfort, and the space to share their own feelings.
It is recommended that parents tell their children together in the family home, perhaps giving a little thought beforehand on how they will answer any questions your children may have. Be honest with your children and be prepared for a wide range of emotions – tears and anger are not uncommon. Importantly, do not point the finger of blame on any one individual and do not give them any of the details. What is important for them to understand is that a decision has been made, and it is for the best, which they will come to realise in the long-term.
When continuing to live together in the same home, explain how that might work and how long it might be for. Explain to them what the weekend arrangements might be, and how family meals, school runs and vacations might change. Try and agree these as far as possible before speaking to them.
What happens if it doesn’t work?
In some situations, living under the same roof might become untenable and the parties are left with deciding whether to continue as they are or find different options. Do not rush into any decisions. Discuss this first with your family solicitor who might be able to offer alternatives that minimise change, something which is especially important where there are children. Often, the difficulties posed by an unsustainable situation put some pressure on both parties to resolve matters as soon as practicable, which can be positive.
Contact our Family and Divorce Teams
The above is accurate as at 12 May 2023. The information above may be subject to change. The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.