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Living together while getting divorced

More couples who want to split up are staying under one roof because of the economy. How do they cope?

By Karen Datko Mar 23, 2010 8:51PM

The divorce rate actually dropped -- a remarkable 4% -- in 2008 and that trend appears to be continuing. Does that mean that during bad economic times, more couples are rediscovering true love and harmony?


Could be, but for many, probably not: Financial strain can be the final straw in a shaky relationship. What’s likely is that many people who would otherwise split can’t afford to break up. There’s too little money for legal fees or operating two households. Also, homeowners can find it nearly impossible to dispose of the family house.

So, many unhappy couples remain together (and many divorce lawyers report that business is the slowest it’s ever been).


Here's another strange Great Recession trend: Many couples are forced by finances to live together while going through a divorce. The Washington Post said 20% to 25% of the clients of one area law firm are in that boat, and other news stories reported similar statistics. Doesn’t that sound like hell here on earth? “It was torture, a scene waiting for a crime of passion,” Nordette, a poster at BlogHer, said about her experience.


If this is your current situation, how can you cope?

  • First, make sure your separated-but-living-together (known as SBLT) situation doesn’t complicate your divorce. For instance, the Post says, Maryland “requires a full year of separate residences for mutual and voluntary divorce.” Other jurisdictions let you cohabitate as long you lead separate lives. What does your state law require?
  • Set rules. We read of one couple who hung up a tarp to divide the house. That sounds extreme, but you do want to stay in your space. Get Divorce Advice recommends: “Be it from who takes care of the grocery bill to dating other people, you should try to make clear what your boundaries are. If you choose not to see other people, stick to it.” If you do date, be discreet.
  • Avoid jealousy. “Your ex is no longer yours, so try not to be paranoid or obsess over whether he or she is dating again,” the site says. The situation is bad enough as it is.

If you want to end the marriage but can’t afford to hire an attorney, consider a cheapie, do-it-yourself divorce.

But what if disposal of the family home is the main obstacle to splitting up? About a quarter of homeowners are underwater -- owing more on the house than it’s worth -- and selling in a negative equity situation means dividing up debt.


Refinancing when you're underwater is nearly impossible. SmartMoney says:

If the couple isn't selling the house, the spouse who is staying has to refinance the mortgage -- that's the only way the bank will let the other go, says Richard Iglar, an attorney with Skoloff & Wolfe, a Livingston, N.J., law firm that focuses on matrimonial and real-estate law.

What can  you do?

  • Postpone the house sale. However, SmartMoney said, “If both spouses are on the mortgage, the one who moves out won’t be able to get another mortgage should he or she want to buy another home.” That might require renting or moving in with parents or friends.
  • Rent the house to someone else and move into separate apartments.  
  • Consider a short sale. The bank may cancel the rest of the mortgage debt.

Regardless, it appears that history will repeat itself. According to the Post, the darkest days of the Great Depression saw a drop in the divorce rate, followed by a big upswing when times improved.


And look for an even greater spike among blue-collar folks. Men, particularly those with lower incomes, have suffered disproportionate job loss, and a National Marriage Project study (.pdf file) “predicts that the so-called 'mancession' will undercut marriage in working-class communities, furthering a ‘divorce divide’ that has been growing since the 1980s between couples with college degrees and those with less education.”


Are you stuck with a spouse because of the economy or do you know someone who is? How does a person cope?


Related reading:

Oct 26, 2010 10:03AM

its really nice post.. i really like the valuable content shared on your post..divorce is the finish of relationship ..i think that people who are thinking of divorce each other should take all the matter in the cool way. and try to be realistic in nature.thanks for this valuable post.keep up the great work.

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