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When a couple decides to divorce or separate, one of the biggest points of contention is often the question of who remains in the home. In many cases, both parties have their names on the house mortgage. They may have lived there for years and have an emotional attachment. That’s without accounting for the huge financial investment involved in home owning.
Many couples live in different places while they’re separated. In this case, “separation” is taken literally; each individual is living a separate life in a separate house. But some couples decide to live in their family home until after the finalization of the divorce. This is an undertaking that requires respect, open communication, and emotional maturity.
Separation and divorce laws vary from state to state. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with the separation laws in your state. In some states, each person must live in a different residence for a certain period of time before the divorce is finalized.
Potential Legal Issues
Whether you can live together during a separation depends largely on your state. In certain states, such as North Carolina, each spouse must live apart from the other for at least one year before their divorce may be finalized. In other states, a divorce filed on “fault” grounds has no prior separation requirement.
If your state does allow spouses to share a home while legally separated, it’s very important that you establish both physical and emotional boundaries. You probably can’t share the entire house the way you used to. You’ll need to divide up the space. This means having separate bedrooms, separate entrances to the house, and other boundaries.
You’ll also need to have social boundaries. When a couple separates, the point is that each is living an individual life. You may not have decided if you’re going to get divorced. You may still be hoping to reconcile. But you need to take time to yourself, which means keeping distance from your spouse.
The two of you shouldn’t go to social functions as a couple. You should make sure that all your friends and family members are aware that you’re broken up. If there’s any potential situation in which you’d be forced or tempted to interact like a married couple, avoid it at all costs.
Reasons for Cohabitation
It can be an extreme challenge to share a home while you’re separated. If you had an amicable split, you may have an easier time making things work. But for the most part, couples who live together do so only because they have to. Without a joint income, it’s possible that neither spouse has the financial means to get a new place.
Another reason for cohabitation may be that children are involved. Neither parent wants to leave the house until a custody arrangement has been negotiated.
The majority of states divide marital assets on a 50/50 basis. This means that if one spouse keeps the house, they need to compensate the other spouse with assets worth half the cost of the house. They might relinquish their rights to the other spouse’s savings account, retirement account, or some other financial asset.
If the relationship is particularly contentious, a spouse might worry that moving out will let the other spouse say that desertion or abandonment was at fault for a divorce. The spouse with the highest income tends to be held responsible for making insurance and mortgage payments, at least until the details are finalized in the divorce settlement.
No matter whether the couple lives together or not, multiple factors affect the way property is divided. Some contributing factors are:
- How long the marriage lasted
- How much financial contribution each spouse made toward paying for the house
- The capability of each spouse to financially maintain the property alone
- The primary custody arrangement when children are involved
Making Living Together Work
It’s possible to live together successfully, provided there’s no physical or emotional threat to anyone. However, both parties need to be willing to work together. They need to mutually respect boundaries and allow each other to live their lives.
If there’s an issue with domestic violence, keeping the home should not be the victim’s first priority. Instead, they should try to get to a safe space as soon as possible. They should also get their children to a safe space.
For couples who decide to live together, it’s important to establish strict guidelines for behavior.