With mortgage rates at their highest point since 2000, the ongoing lack of affordable housing options, and continually rising inflation, it seems now more than ever couples are living together after divorce.
And while living together after divorce isn't for everyone, with some careful planning, and clear communication, it can work for some couples.
To help you decide if cohabitation after divorce is right for you, and if so, what you need to know and do to make it work, in this post I’ll share with you:
3 reasons why some couples choose to live together after divorce;
The “divorced but living together” benefits and challenges;
7 practical issues to address during your divorce negotiations to improve your chances of post-divorce cohabitation success;
And, how living together after a divorce can significantly affect 5 key aspects of your divorce agreement, and what to do about it.
Ready to jump in?
3 Reasons Why Some Couples Choose to Live Together After Divorce
It’s a fact that two households are more expensive to run than one. So, if your finances were tight while married, they’re only going to get tighter once you're divorced and living apart.
By choosing to live together after divorce, it may allow you and your spouse to continue to make ends meet until you’re confident you can both do so on your own.
And even if you're able to make ends meet while married and living together, sometimes external financial factors can play into your decision to continue to live together post-divorce such as mortgage interest rates, the job market, or other general economic conditions.
There’s no doubt that divorce will be one of the most stressful experiences you and your kids will ever go through.
So, you and your soon-to-be-ex may choose to divorce, but still live together, in order to minimize the disruption to your children’s lives. This commonly referred to as a “nesting plan” or “bird nest parenting.”
In my experience as a divorce mediator, this is the #1 reason cited by my client couples as to why they want to live together post-divorce.
In addition to the more obvious reasons like finances, or the children’s well-being, there can be emotional reasons that drive your desire to cohabitate after divorce as well.
Maybe you’re not quite ready to leave the marital home as it’s the place your children grew up in. Or you may still have feelings for your spouse and you’re not quite ready for a total separation from them.
Given the nature of divorce, these are less common in my experience, but are still reasons I’ve heard people state for wanting to stay living together.
Divorced But Living Together Benefits
Not Having Two Housing Payments
We mentioned earlier how external factors like mortgage interest rates can impact a couple's decision to cohabitate after divorce.
To give you a real-world example, imagine you had to borrow $500,000 to purchase a home. And instead of a 30-year fixed mortgage being 4%, it was 8%.
The difference in your monthly payment between the lower and higher interest rates would be nearly $1,100 per month. All of it in interest!
But even if you’re not looking to buy another place right away, if you and your ex go your separate ways, you’ll each need a place of your own. Meaning – two housing payments.
And if you have children? One or both of you will also have to have bedrooms for them in your new place – even when they’re not with you. Which can really add up.
Shared Operational Costs
In addition to housing costs, there are other expenses that when living together can be more easily shared. This may include, but is not limited to things like Internet, cable TV, telephone, and streaming services, as well as household maintenance costs like landscaping, or house cleaning.
If you, your now ex, and your kids, are all living together after you’re divorced, you can still buy the 12-pack of paper towels, or case of toilet paper at Costco, and go through it in a reasonable timeframe.
But, if you’re each living on your own, you may need to buy smaller quantities, which are usually sold at a higher per-unit price.
Before you know it, a dollar here, a few dollars there, and you’ve increased the amount you spend on household staples by $100 or more a month!
Less Stress on the Children
When done properly, living together after a divorce involving children (i.e., nesting) can help reduce the impact your divorce will have on them. It gives your kids time to adjust to your new marital status, ask any questions they might have with you both present, and work through their feelings at their own pace.
And, if you have kids in school, it will allow them to easily stay in their same school district. This can be especially important for high schoolers who want to graduate with their friends. Or very young children where changing schools may be traumatic.
Finally, by living together after divorce, it can make child care and co-parenting easier. Especially if one of you travels frequently for work, works long hours, or goes into an office that’s far from home.
I can’t tell you how many parents I work with (who choose not to cohabitate post-divorce) design their parenting plan so the kids stay at one parent’s house every Sunday through Thursday night - just so they can have the same school-week routine they did when the couple was married.
And while it's a decision these parents make because they feel it puts their children’s needs first, it is unfortunate for the non-custodial parent.
As much as your children may complain about you keeping them on a schedule, kids need routine. Living together after divorce can enable you to maintain the same routine in which your children were (hopefully) thriving.
Beathing Room to Make Decisions
The divorce process itself can be all-consuming, and many couples are often surprised at the amount of work required to end their marriage.
When you’re in the midst of a divorce filling out paperwork, gathering documents, and negotiating the terms of your agreement, you might not have the time, or energy, to think about where you want to live or when you'll return to the workforce!
Living together after divorce can alleviate that pressure. And give you and your ex the time you both need to make those critical life decisions.
If the romantic spark has faded, but you and your spouse are actually great partners and friends, living together after an amicable divorce may make perfect sense.
You know each other, like each other, and can rely on each other in case one of you needs a helping hand.
Divorced But Living Together Challenges
No matter how long you were married, going from spouses to roommates can be extremely difficult for some couples.
For example, when you were married, it wouldn’t be a big deal to shower in front of each other or open the mail regardless of who it was addressed to.
Probably not such a great idea.
Relationship Status Confusion
It’s not uncommon for one spouse to be the driver of the divorce. While the other spouse is what we refer to as a “reluctant spouse.”
When living together after divorce, one spouse may hold out false hope of a reconciliation, which can make things awkward.
It can be tricky to move on romantically when still living with an ex-spouse as neither of you may feel single. Which can hamper your ability (and desire) to re-enter the dating pool.
And for the people you may wish to date? They may not be able to handle you living with your ex!
Then there’s the tension that can arise between you and your ex should one or both of you start a new relationship. Yes, you got divorced, and yes, that means you are free to date other people, or even remarry.
But that doesn't mean your ex-spouse wants to see that.
Defining Your “Space”
When you were married, maybe you didn’t mind your husband having his “man cave” or your wife having her “she shed.”
But now that you’re divorcing, you might not want to give up all that precious real estate!
In addition to any previously earmarked space, there’s also shared space. Like the TV room, or kitchen.
Many couples I know have only one TV. What happens if you want to watch it, but your ex is already doing so? Is it OK to plop down next to them? Or do you need to wait your turn?
When living together after divorce, figuring out what spaces are mine, yours, and ours, can be tricky.
Just because you got a divorce, it doesn’t mean all those old arguments went away. And you both suddenly learned how to fluently speak the other’s language.
So, if you plan to live together post-divorce, be aware that any communication challenges between you and your now ex-spouse may not only make cohabitation emotionally taxing, but that old, unresolved issues may resurface frequently, with no resolution in sight.
Financial Entanglements and Spending Styles
When you were married, maybe you pooled your financial resources. And neither of you said anything to the other about what they spent the household money on.
But now that you’re divorced but still living together, buying that new iPad, or going on that trip with your friends, may lead to tension between you.
Plus, your finances will most likely stay intertwined longer, delaying a clean split of your assets, liabilities, and financial lives.
7 Practical Issues to Address to Increase Post-Divorce Cohabitation Success
While certainly there are challenges to living together after divorce, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It just takes a bit of planning upfront, and a lot of communication.
Here are 7 issues you and your spouse need to address at the time of your divorce (preferably with the help of a qualified divorce professional) in order to make living together, once your divorce is final, work.
How Will Household Finances be Handled?
If you and your spouse each deposited your paychecks into a joint checking account, and paid all your bills from there, you need to decide if that arrangement will continue, or if you’ll each establish your own accounts and share in the costs to run the house.
And if you do that, what will each of your shares be?
On top of household expenditures, you’ll also need to carve out how children’s expenses will be handled (if necessary), as well as personal expenses like vacations with friends, or going on dates.
How Will You Define (and Use) Personal and Shared Space?
You will also want to make sure each of you has some private space in the home, and that each of you agree to respect that space as separate.
You’ll also want to discuss how any shared space like the kitchen or family room, will be used.
How Will Household Responsibilities be Handled?
Perhaps while you were married, one of you worked inside the home, raising children, and keeping the home fires burning. But now that you’re getting a divorce, will those responsibilities still fall to that spouse?
Or will things like cooking and laundry now be separate responsibilities and each party will be responsible for doing their own?
When are Guests Allowed Over?
As a married couple, if you were to have your friends over for a glass of wine, or to watch the big game, you probably didn’t ask permission. You just mentioned who was coming over and when.
Now that you’re getting a divorce, and plan on living together after it, is doing so still, OK? Or do you require that the other spouse ask permission, and provide some sort of advanced notice?
What Happens if One of You Enters a New Relationship?
If either of you intend on dating while cohabitating after divorce, and you think it may cause feelings of awkwardness or jealousy, discuss upfront what the rules of engagement are so as to avoid an unpleasant situation down the road.
How Will Care of The Children be Handled?
Certainly, as part of any divorce agreement with children, a parenting plan will be discussed, and decided upon. But most people only think of the plan taking effect once each parent has established a separate residence.
Decide now if you’ll being enacting some sort of parenting schedule while cohabitating or wait until you’re no longer living together. And if it’s now, who will be responsible for what care of the children, and when.
And Most Importantly, How Long Will The Arrangement Last?
In my experience, post-divorce cohabitation plans are usually, but not always, limited in duration, with most plans lasting at most, around 2 years.
And while that doesn’t mean you and your ex can’t cohabitate after divorce for shorter or longer, you will at the time of your divorce, want to define how long such an arrangement will last, and have a process by which you regularly review things to see if they’re working.
And what to do if they’re not.
5 Ways Living Together After Divorce Can Impact Your Divorce Agreement
Living together after finalizing a divorce can lead to unexpected complications regarding the agreements you and your now ex-spouse made during your divorce negotiations.
A qualified divorce professional can help you understand the impacts in greater detail than I’m going to share here, so be sure to ask them to explain (and help you both address) how living together post-divorce will impact each of the five areas below.
The Parenting Plan
As you may already know, parenting plans outline the nights, weekend, and holidays each of you will spend with the kids. And is a critical part of any divorce agreement involving children.
But if you’re still living together after you divorce, when does the parenting plan actually kick in?
Let’s say in your plan you outlined how holidays would be shared, and now it’s Thanksgiving. And it’s mom’s “turn” to have the kids as outlined in your plan.
Last year, when it was dad’s turn, you all spent it together in the home you’re sharing post-divorce and celebrated as a family because he thought the plan would kick in once you established separate households.
But this year, mom’s year, she wants to go see her sister in Chicago, and take the kids with her. It’s outlined in the plan that it’s her year, so now what?
Child support awards, as calculated by a state’s child support guideline, assume parents will be living apart. And the funds provided from one parent to the other are meant to help offset the costs of raising the children for the lower earning parent, at that parent’s residence.
What happens then to child support when you’re still living together? The “lower earning parent” doesn’t have a separate residence, and with it, separate expenses they’re paying for the children.
And don’t forget – child support awards are usually calculated based on the number of children a couple has. It’s pretty common for people to live together post-divorce until their oldest child graduates high school.
But if at the time of their divorce, they agreed to a child support award that accounted for all minor children, and at the time they establish separate households they have one less minor child, how do you handle that?
Like child support, alimony is paid from the higher earning spouse to the lower earning spouse, to help offset some of the lower earning spouse’s expenses, for a pre-agreed period of time.
But if you’re cohabitating, and agree to continue sharing expenses as you did while married, is alimony paid while living together?
What if you agreed you’d each be responsible for your own personal expenses, but one of you had no income as you work inside the home raising children? How does that work?
Then there’s the issue of how long alimony lasts (duration). At the time of your divorce, you and your soon-to-be-ex will need to agree on a duration. So, when does the clock start?
Let’s say one of you plans on buying the other out of the home when your post-divorce cohabitation ends. And at the time of your divorce, you had the home appraised, and agreed on a buyout amount.
But the housing market went into a tailspin and now the home is worth less than what you agreed it was worth two years ago at the time of your divorce. What’s the buyout amount now?
Usually divorce agreements are negotiated on the entirety of the assets and liabilities contained within them. Meaning one party agrees to take less of the 401(k) because they’re getting more of the house, things like that.
But, if the home changes in value, how do you (if you even can) adjust retroactively, any other agreements you made regarding property and debts?
The same thing goes for investments like 401(k)s. The market goes up and the market goes down and the value of that 401(k) might not be what it was at the time of you divorce.
When you’re married and file jointly, you can share in certain tax deductions and offsets like mortgage interest, real estate taxes, and dependent child deductions.
But even though you’re living together after your divorce; you’re considered single. How do you and your now ex-spouse share in those benefits?
Living Together After Divorce Can Work. But Only if You Work With an Experienced Divorce Professional.
They’ll not only be able to help you and your soon-to-be-ex understand the implications of these issues, but also assist you both in negotiating, and coming to agreement on these issues, at the time of your divorce.
In my experience, the last thing people want to do is have to revisit these issues a few years down the road, after they’re no longer married, and trying to establish separate households! Which is why it’s critical you discuss, and resolve them, now.
As you’ve learned, there are many reasons for, and benefits / challenges of, living together after divorce.
And for you and your spouse to have any chance of post-divorce cohabitation success, you need to address some pretty important issues.
While it certainly may be tempting to try and work through these issues on your own, experience has shown me that people getting a divorce typically have different communication styles, spending styles, and opinions on things like co-parenting and household management.
So, in my opinion, working with an experienced divorce professional is the best way to divorce while still living under the same roof and increase your chances of post-divorce cohabitation success.
Planning for a Divorce?
The choices you make before you start your divorce are critical.
But you can only make smart choices if you take the time to prepare and get educated first!
Joe Dillon, MBA is a professional divorce mediator and founder of Equitable Mediation Services. Joe is passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and specializes in helping couples resolve the issues required for divorce -peacefully, fairly and cost-effectively. When he’s not mediating, you can find him exercising, cooking, and watching Cubs baseball.