Divorce, economics, and staying in the same house together - Mothering Forums
Frugality & Finances > Divorce, economics, and staying in the same house together
worthy's Avatar worthy 08:18 AM 03-16-2011

I'm in this situation and coming to find that it is not all that uncommon in this economy.  There are other reasons why people choose to do it, of course, and there are reasons why it won't work for everyone, but I'm really curious to know if there are people here on this board who are in this kind of situation in part because of finances.


DH and I agreed to divorce two months ago and decided to stay in the same house (with some modifications to our space).  We get along well enough even now, and we both want to be full-time parents to the kids, but finances are definitely a major factor.  We both feel strongly about homeschooling and in having parents home with kids, and if we were trying to support two households in this situation, I think we couldn't do it.  Also we just found out DH is expecting a layoff at the end of April (he's a contract worker now, so no unemployment pay).  We're also not rushing to do the divorce in part because we know it will be expensive.  Marriage seems so easy and cheap compared to divorce.


Some people have suggested a "birds nest" option where the parents rotate in and out of the house where the kids live.  Nice thought, but it means maintaining three households!  Not happening on our income - we're struggling to maintain what we have.  We are doing okay, but still, there is not enough wiggle room to cover another household, let alone two.


I think we're lucky in that our house is big and our downstairs is sort of almost already a separate apartment, though making the "kitchen" into a real working kitchen will require moving the laundry machines somewhere else, and that will involve plumbing and wiring that will likely get expensive, so we're putting that off.  Also we will need appliances for the kitchen.  And serious plumbing work is needed to get the shower functional in that space.  For now we're sharing living room, kitchen, bath, and entry.  But when the time comes that we really and truly need separate space (like other people are in the picture) we can change that.  I am optimistic.


I'm wondering if the number of people who do this sort of thing will increase with the challenges of our economy.  In a way it means redefining what "household" means.


To be clear, our situation does not involve abuse, and we are both functional parents.  Of course situations vary widely.  I'm just curious to know if others here have had this experience and what you think of it from an economic perspective. (ETA words in italics)

doubledutch's Avatar doubledutch 10:06 AM 03-16-2011

i think it could work if there are rules in place that you both agree to and stick with, and if you can trust each other to each hold up your end of the bargain.  (which is to say, it would be a very rare divorcing couple who could ever possibly do this - maybe you are that couple, maybe not.)  i understand doing this temporarily as a way to "separate" while you each figure out what life is going to be like post-divorce and how you are each going to support yourselves and your children.  however it sounds like you are thinking of this as a long-term arrangement, building an apartment in your basement (for him, or for you?  is that fair?) and thinking of living under the same roof while dating others.  it sounds incredibly difficult.  i have a hard time believing that could work out for two people who also presumably wanted to make their marriage work.  yes, divorce is difficult and expensive . . . it's typical for both parties to downsize, often living with parents or roommates.  how miffed would you be if you sink money into that apartment and then he decides to move out?  or would you be happy, because then you could rent it out to someone else, allowing you to stay in the house?


think also about how you will disentangle your finances.  can you hash out who is responsible for what part of the mortgage and utilities?  will you be seeking a traditional order for child support?  if not, then you'll also have to sort out and agree upon who pays for what, in terms of groceries, activities/classes, child care when needed, medical/dental, clothing, etc. 


i'm sorry that i'm not answering this from the perspective of someone who has btdt.  however, i am going through a divorce right now, dealing with the financial strain and the emotional difficulties of our family, goals and ideals changing.  hug2.gif  i don't think it's ever easy, even when it's for the best.  good luck!

worthy's Avatar worthy 10:33 AM 03-16-2011

All else aside, there isn't any reasonable place we could live and still be in close proximity to the kids.  I feel like we have already spent the past several years putting frugal living to the test, and the housing market is crap, so where would downsizing leave us?  I'm not interested in either of us courting homelessness, yk?


Yes, I would be very happy to have the downstairs turned into an apartment because if he does leave then it can be rented out.  That is an underlying investment in that process for me, TBH.

How we handled finances before wasn't broken, and so continuing to handle them jointly seems fine for as long as it works.  We both agree that if someone new comes into our lives, the needs of the kids come first even over that, for as long as they are dependents.  We already worked out who pays for what within our marriage, and we'll just continue that.  I guess it's sort of a half-marriage but that meets the needs at hand - I realize that won't apply to some, perhaps many, divorces.


Thankfully in our case there isn't a huge urgency to change everything all at once.  Maybe that is unusual?  I don't know.  No abuse, addiction, or affair. 


I'm so sorry you're dealing with divorce, too.  I agree, it's never easy, and I hope you are navigating things okay.  hug2.gif

philomom's Avatar philomom 10:53 AM 03-16-2011
Okay, maybe I'm dense but if you can live together and co-parent peacefully... why not just stay married?
thriftyqueen's Avatar thriftyqueen 11:57 AM 03-16-2011

Originally Posted by philomom View Post

Okay, maybe I'm dense but if you can live together and co-parent peacefully... why not just stay married?

I was thinking the same thing.  Seems a little strange that you are on the same page about so much and seem to get a long really well.  I am guessing there are other reasons that you didn't say, which is totally fine.


I would find it hard to be okay with living under the same roof and essentially having the same situation except that he is living in the basement instead of sharing your bedroom.  It would be hard to switch gears from being married and then not while maintaining the same finances, the same house, and raising your kids as you have been doing all along.  Just seems like the difference is a piece of paper saying your not married any more.

Usually Curious's Avatar Usually Curious 02:52 PM 03-16-2011

It seems like you are leaving yourself in a very precarious position. What happens when he meets someone who is not happy with the arrangement? Most women would not be happy with that situation. And how many men would be happy with it?


Temporarily? Yeah, sure. Especially if you can get him to pay for the remodel, but reap the benefits when he moves out.


On the bright side, if the two of you reconcile you can rent out the apartment for income!

enkmom's Avatar enkmom 03:33 PM 03-16-2011

The only experience I have with this situation is hearing about it from a woman I worked with.  They tried to live together in the same house, and it worked - for a while. It was very hard for their children to understand that their parents really weren't "together" anymore when they still lived in the same house.  They had no extra living space in the house so they took turns sleeping on the couch.  They had to resort to a kind of informal custody arrangement once they started dating others, that is dad was the primary caregiver on the 1st and 3rd weekends and mom on the 2nd and 4th.  If one of them had to work on "their weekend" they often had to seek additional child care.  Even she says it would have been easier to stay married.


Mom and the kids did recently move out because it was just too stressful for everyone involved.

worthy's Avatar worthy 06:03 PM 03-16-2011

I'm sorry if I wasn't clear.  This is meant to be a discussion of the economics of such a situation.

SubliminalDarkness's Avatar SubliminalDarkness 06:27 PM 03-16-2011

What is there to discuss? You have the same financial situation you had when you were married. It worked then, it will work now, until something changes. 

Callimom's Avatar Callimom 06:46 PM 03-16-2011

I have an acquaintance who was in a similar situation years ago. They actually moved and bought a side by side duplex. I can't remember if they converted the house to the duplex or if they bought it that way.

In any case she stayed home and homeschooled the kids. At night the kids would go "next door" to Dads for dinner and to sleep. The bedroom's on the mom's side were rented out to borders (it was a university town) and those funds helped to contributed to maintaining the household and allowing the mom to stay at home. The family did a full family dinner once a week where schedules, issues etc were discussed and they would sometimes eat dinner together informally. The separate spaces helped with boundaries between parents but the kids felt like both spaces were home, there wasn't any concerns around forgetting stuff at one house and both parents were as available to them as previously.


I am sure there were challenges but the parents managed to make it look seamless and I know the kids transitioned beautifully. The situation has changed now - the kids are all teenagers or close to it now and the Dad has remarried. But I remember thinking it was an ideal situation for kids and parents in a lot of ways (assuming things were amicable) because there was the same level of parental support and availablity for the kids.


Best of luck with your situation


enkmom's Avatar enkmom 07:46 PM 03-16-2011

Oops, I'm sorry! I forgot which forum I was reading in.  To be more on topic, the mom in my situation did have to start kicking in on the house payment out of her slender paycheck, and she started charging him for groceries unless he wanted to buy his own.  She also had to find her own health insurance once she was divorced, which was a further strain on her finances.  You may not have these situations, or may be able to work through them.  I do wonder how things like major repairs would be handled between people with widely differing incomes? 


I don't doubt you are right that more people may try this solution in this economy.  Better happily divorced and sharing space than miserable but married due to financial concerns!

shayinme's Avatar shayinme 07:00 AM 03-17-2011

One of my best friends was doing this until recently and it was really hard, their oldest kid is 7 and it was really hard for her to understand that Mom and dad were no longer together but everyone was in the same house. Pretty much it was about finances, in their case they own a house they rent out and are trying to sell, my friend had been primarily a SAHM and was transitioning back into consulting. It reached a point it was just too awkward for everyone so her soon to be ex moved out. I also think when he started dating and she got interested in dating it just crossed into way to weird. It can work, it worked for a while for my friends but ultimately and I say this as someone who has been divorced I don't think its a great idea long term or permanently.

A&A's Avatar A&A 06:36 AM 03-20-2011

I'd stay legally married, at least for now--it's cheaper (taxes, insurances, etc.)  You could just divorce emotionally, until one of you finds that untenable. 

annethcz's Avatar annethcz 12:41 PM 03-20-2011

My BIL and SIL are in a similar situation.  They're pretty amicably separated right now.  For a many months they lived together in their single family house.  She lived upstairs, he lived downstairs, they shared the kitchen.  They didn't spend a ton of time together since they had previously chosen to work opposite shifts to minimize the amount of time their child was in daycare.  During the summer they traded off weekends at home.  BIL would spend his off weekends at a camper in another part of the state.  On SIL's weekends off she'd go out with friends and stay over with friends. 


After a time, they found the situation to not be very workable.  Finances were tight, but they discovered that downsizing did work out for them.  They both moved into townhouses that are within a few blocks of each other.  Housing costs are similar now that they're living in two smaller townhouses vs. when they had a large single family house.  Many of the utilities are included in the cost of renting a townhouse, and SIL has told me that although some expenses have gone up, it isn't so bad because she's not paying for any of BIL's things.  They are still married, and have no immediate plans to divorce.  They are still talking about reconciling, but nothing has been decided.

bobandjess99's Avatar bobandjess99 12:47 AM 03-21-2011

not knowing more, which is fine, makes it a tad harder to help, but i do agree...if you were making it work before, i guess you can make it work now.  

My main concern would be that now that you won't be married, he may not feel like he needs to "give" you as much money.  He might feel like he can prioritize his own wants over the family's needs, especially if he doesn't agree with them.  Like maybe he's never truly understood why you buy organic food, or expensive handbags, or vegan shoes, etc, etc, etc, ..or maybe part of the reason for the divorce is that you dont approve of his love of online gaming, and now that he is "free" a new 47 inch LCD tv and multiple memberships seems like a great idea, or that sports car/truck/boat he's always wanted but couldn't have because he had a family and expenses/responsibilities seems like such a great idea now..etc.  Not to mention of course the possible eventual expenses related to having a new girlfriend, etc.   Or it'll eventually just degrade..right now as his WIFE you guys probably try to work through things, compromise, etc.  After the divorce, I bet neither of you will be so willing anymore..you'll be free, he'll be free, and able to do what you want..why should you have to keep bending over backwards to make it work with someone you're no longer tied to??  Why should he/you get to control the others life?  I'll spend my money how i want, etc. 


In a divorce settlement, it varies by state of course, but in general, you would not be entitled to more than 50% max of his income.  So..in the situation you are in now, it sounds like things are "tight", and basically 100% of his income supports you and the kids as a household, right?   Because at some point..and I'd bet it's soon, he'll decide that "giving" you 50% or less of his paycheck is a heackuva lot better than giving you 100%.  And then he'll leave, and you'll get child support, and suddenly have to figure out how to live on half or less of your prior income.  


I think doing it this way only postpones the inevitable, not to mention the confusion the kids will endure, and all the other non-money-related stuff you don't want to talk about.    To stay on the money..I think you should start looking more realistically at a plan to split..it doesn't have to happen tomorrow, but say within a reasonable time frame...maybe 6 months at the outside.  What exactly will need to happen?  Sell the house?  get an apt?  go back to school to have a way to support yourself?  Would you be able to live on the amount of child support and still stay at home and homeschool?  I know what you say he is saying *right now* about the importance of SAH and homeschool, etc....but once that new girlfriend comes along and statistically, it will, and FAST, AND he is likely to marry her, chances are all bets are off.  Why should he have to bust his butt to support you and the kids and also himself and his new family?  You should have to get your butt out there and work too, etc - it's a really, really common story. 


Are you planning to get divorced legally?  or just consider yourselves divorced?  

Because if you go through the courts and legally divorce, , child support WILL be set as a matter of legality, and I would bet, that even if he is a good man, a decent man, that one day *very soon* he will decide that giving you the amount in the decree is better than spending HIS entire paycheck maintaining the household you currently have.  It just will happen.  So even if you go along with this arrangement, I woudl personally have a plan in place FROM the get-go, as to how you will live on the support amount, in preparation for that day. 


Also, having him remain in the household probably will affect your ability to be eligible for benefits, such as food stamps or medical insurance for the children, , because if he is living there, they will likely make you claim his income, all of it, as part of the "household income".  I'm not sure if that enters into your plans at all, but something to be aware of. 

ilovemygirl's Avatar ilovemygirl 07:38 AM 03-21-2011

I think in theory this is a good idea financially but I don't see how it can work out long term in actual practice. I don't see how any couple can have their relationship deteriorate to the point of divorce but then be wonderful and gracious to each other and still live in every way as a married couple but romantically. I realize you may just have a very very very unique situation but quite frankly I don't think there are many -or any- couples divorcing that have not had serious problems. The kind of peace and agreement, friendship and understanding you are depending on between you and your ex is something most married couples I know (myself included) have trouble finding in every day life with a committed and generally happy union. I just don't see how the emotional side of being separated wouldn't eventually affect the financial side of things. 

Now, I think as a short term solution until things can be figured out it makes a lot of financial sense but only that couple would know if it would be worth the emotional cost to both themselves and the children - especially if it doesn't work out as planned.

Norabella's Avatar Norabella 12:31 AM 03-25-2011

Originally Posted by worthy View Post

Some people have suggested a "birds nest" option where the parents rotate in and out of the house where the kids live.  Nice thought, but it means maintaining three households!  Not happening on our income - we're struggling to maintain what we have.  We are doing okay, but still, there is not enough wiggle room to cover another household, let alone two.

Actually, this option could be done with only two households. I knew a couple who bought a condo when they divorced and swapped back and forth between the condo and the house. Obviously, that entails a bit more ongoing cooperation than each having a separate household in addition to the house where the kids live, but it can be done.