March 1, 2008
Written by Staff at the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution
Living together after the decision to divorce is not an arrangement for the faint of heart. Even if the decision to divorce was a joint decision, even if you both agree that divorce, in the end, may be the right choice, living together after the decision to divorce is most difficult.
Some of the reasons are quite obvious. Separation is a time to be separate, a time to have space to think, to cry, to plan, without having to explain your feelings or express your fears. Somehow the house becomes more crowded, the space more confined. Many feel as if all their actions and reactions now require an explanation. It does not much matter who actually asked for the divorce or if one feels sadder or more guilty than the other. The bottom line is that, for most people, the roommate arrangement does not feel comfortable. Children make the situation more complicated. How do you each act and interact with the kids knowing what you know, knowing that the family will no longer be one unit after the divorce? Yet today, with slower sales of real estate and people forced to remain in one household until the marital domicile is sold, cohabitation is occurring more frequently.
Often, however, this most uncomfortable situation can be eased if husband and wife, or former husband and wife, face the facts. “Listen,” says one party, ”we cannot afford to have two separate homes, but maybe we can act as if we do.” This clever spouse is suggesting a plan to function separately by devising a living-together agreement.
Examples are many. Some decide that the house will be each of theirs at different times. Based on work schedules, and children’s schedules, the parties devise a calendar that severely limits the time they actually overlap in the same territory. This does not necessarily mean that one is always out of the house when the other party is scheduled to have the house. There might be a space that the so-called non-scheduled party uses. With young children, occupying the same space is not always possible. Children often rout out the hidden parent, forcing a different arrangement.
Creativity is the secret to successful co-existence. Some people work more hours on their non-scheduled times and fewer hours on their scheduled days or times. Some end up spending non-scheduled times with friends or relatives, even if it involves travel.
Interestingly, one positive offshoot of the new arrangement may result from the children becoming acclimated to spending alone time with each parent. The separation has not occurred, but the division of time and labor has—at least to an extent.
As such, the challenge facing couples that plan to live apart, but are kept together by the marketplace and their own financial needs, is to devise a plan and a schedule that maintain their sanity and foster collaborative problem solving. Who knows, necessity might really be the “mother “ of invention, inspiring a new or enhanced process for working together to resolve conflicts and solve dilemmas—a mighty handy tool for divorced couples as well as for married ones.