If “home is where the heart is….” then it is understandable that after a break-up, deciding who remains living in the family home and who moves out, is big and scary choice to be made. Often this decision is one of the first you’ll confront in your separation or divorce, as well as being one of the most emotionally difficult steps in the process.
With the rising cost of living pricing so many out of the rental and housing market, it comes as no surprise that for many, the sheer cost of running two households, or even operating a home without dual incomes, comes as a thudding reality check after a break-up.
As we explore in this article, this realisation leads many couples to consider creative and practical alternatives, to delay their physical separation from one another, and maximise their chances at achieving a smooth and low-stress separation.
Can we keep living together now that we are separated?
Yes, you and your former partner can live in the relationship/matrimonial home, even after your relationship has ended. There are some important considerations you should bear in mind though, before taking this option.
Living ‘separately and apart under one roof’ means that you still live in the same home, although you are no longer married or in a de facto relationship. Generally, this is a short to medium term arrangement, allowing everyone time to sort bigger decisions out – like custody of children and this division of property.
It’s convenient, low cost compared to operating two homes, and provides stability to you and any children, when you’re already facing a great deal of emotional upheaval.
People living separately and apart often make changes in the household, to create boundaries that recognise the shift in their relationship. For example, their sleeping arrangements within the home may change with one person moving out of the shared bedroom. They may begin operating separate bank accounts and start doing chores - such as laundry and meal preparation - separately to one another. They might set up a roster for the care of children or pets, too.
Normal, everyday gripes that come from living in close quarters can quickly spiral in the fall-out of a break up. Done well, living separated under one roof is achieved by both members of the couple being committed to staying tolerant and respectful of each other, as well as avoiding conflict in the home. That can be a big ask when you’re feeling hurt, angry and disappointed. Turn your mind to how and when you will each have space to process your feelings about the end of your relationship, when you are continuing to cross paths on a daily basis and live around a level of tension. Be realistic about what is achievable, and how long it can be sustained.
If you’re married, being separated under one roof can count towards your separation period to establish grounds to be able to formally divorce. A divorce can be granted 12 months after you have separated, provided you can show the relationship has irretrievably broken down and you did not reconcile in that period. Where you haven’t physically separated your household yet, to rely on periods of living separated under the one roof in a divorce, you will need to have evidence to show that you stopped being married couple and did not reconcile your marriage during that time.
If you were in a de facto relationship, then you don’t need to formally divorce. Continuing to live together after you break up can sometimes make it unclear when you did separate, and this can sometimes have an impact on other legal decisions you need to make after your break up.
Where children are involved, some separated couples choose to undertake a ‘Nesting’ or ‘Birdsnest’ arrangement.
Nesting occurs where the children stay living in the home, and the parents move in and out. The parents take turns in caring for the children and the house for an agreed period of time, while the other parent accommodates elsewhere. While providing maximum stability for the children, it can be undesirable to continue sharing a home with your ex, especially if/when one of you repartners. Even before this, there needs to be clear rules around the running of the household across your tag-team arrangement, to avoid grievances about domestic responsibilities spilling over into your newly separated lives.
Again, nesting is often a short to medium term arrangement. Logistically, it can get a bit tricky. As well as the primary home (or nest) you also need to operate one, or two, additional accommodations for the parents to be in when they’re not in the nest. They can range from temporary accommodations such as couch-surfing, hotel, Air BNB to renting or purchasing a second home. This could compromise the cost effectiveness of the arrangement overall.
Emotionally, nesting can sometimes stall the adjustment all members of the family need to go through after a separation, in coming to terms with the shift in the family dynamic. It may send confusing messages to the children. It is important to weigh up these considerations alongside practical and financial factors.
Nesting is not suitable for everyone. You should speak to a family lawyer about what might immediate and longer term living arrangements may be in the best interests of your children.
Following a separation, it might not be appropriate for you to live under the one roof. You are not obligated to remain living with your ex, even if they prefer that arrangement to continue. It is wise to get specialist advice about your options, to tailor a solution for your situation.
Importantly, living separated under the same roof is never recommended where there are concerns about:
- Your safety and/or the safety of others because of your former partner or spouse’s behaviour; or
- Family violence has occurred in your relationship, including non-physical forms such as verbal abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, control and coercion; or
- There is a possibility of you being accused of engaging in family violence towards your former partner or children.
You may be experiencing family violence without realizing, so the decision about where you, and your children, live after a break-up is an critical one.
Speaking with a family lawyer can help you to work through suitable options for your situation. You can start this conversation even before you separate, so you have a plan to safely and smoothly exit the relationship. A specialist family lawyer can help you devise a plan to leave, and connect you with appropriate support services such as the Domestic Violence Crisis Service, as needed.
Sometimes, there may be disagreement between members of a former couple about who stays and who goes from the home. Getting clarity from a specialist family lawyer, as early as possible, about your rights, obligations, risks and options to achieve a physical separation from your ex is key. Often the decisions in the early stages of separation can have an impact on your life in the longer term.
What do you do next?
There are many practical, financial, legal and strategic considerations to take into account when deciding where you will live after a break-up. The options might not be readily apparent to you or, you might feel overwhelmed by them. An experienced family lawyer can explain the choices you have, and help you set up a plan, including before you have decided to separate or left the home.
Parker Coles Curtis are experts in formulating a pathway forward for you - at what is undoubtedly one of the most challenging time in your life. We provide tailored to your circumstances. Have a confidential discussion with one of our highly skilled lawyers, where we will consider your situation from all angles and help you determine the next steps forward.