Separation or divorce while continuing to live together?
May 19, 2009 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to get started on an amicable divorce or separation agreement while still living together?

She cheated on me, we tried to fix it but we can't, now I want out. Late 20s, married 2 years, no kids, no major shared assets. We live in a two bedroom apartment and she's more or less moved into the extra room since I discovered the affair a few months ago. We've been in counseling since before I found out but nothing is working and I know now that I'd be happier without her. We still get along most of the time but the trust is broken forever and I'll never look at her the same way again. We'd both like to be friends once the dust settles. I don't make a lot of money and she's unemployed. I feel like the best way to transition into single life given our circumstances would be to ask for a separation or divorce but remain living together while we sort out the details, separate our finances, continue going to couples therapy, give 2 months notice on our apartment etc... Is this realistic? Could we be roommates for a little while before heading off in separate directions? It feels like the alternative is throwing her out or me leaving on short notice and both of those things would be very difficult emotionally and financially for both of us. Our first opportunity to get out of our lease would involve giving notice by the end of May and being out by Aug 1. Also, for financial and emotional reasons I'd like to do this in a non-adversarial way and without lawyers if at all possible. We don't have a lot of "Us" stuff besides wedding gifts so I think we could separate our assets fairly amicably. We're in Ontario FWIW.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Anything is possible in human relations. You may be able to end it as friends.

There will probably be some rough patches. But, if you are committed to an amicable end, it can happen that way.
posted by Flood at 1:23 PM on May 19, 2009


I worked in a family law office as a paralegal for a few years and saw many divorces and separations go this route. The thing, though, is that just because you are amicable doesn't mean she will be. You may have great intentions of it going amicably and going your separate ways when it's time, but things can quickly go downhill.

So, my suggestion would be that you both sit down and talk about it. Get on the same page of how things should proceed. Talk about splitting the assets - seriously, make a list. She gets the mirror, he gets the lamp. Also, during this "limbo"time - still living together and proceeding with the divorce - you need to agree on some ground rules - like no overnight guests and things like that. Be sensitive to each other. Even though it's agreed upon and amicable, it's still a stressful and emotional time for both parties. Realize that you will both grieve.

Best of luck and I'm sorry.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:26 PM on May 19, 2009

You don't need permission to file for a divorce. Go here and look up how to file for a divorce; you shouldn't need a lawyer because you say it's amicable and you have no children and no shared assets (I've done this in the US and it was a matter of filling out paperwork, submitting it to the courthouse, and then waiting the requisite amount of time for the court to legalize the divorce.) How you continue to live, whether it is together or separate, is your business.

This can absolutely work if you both are committed to divorcing one another while remaining civil. You will need to trust that your partner shares these goals with you. It's difficult--there will be times where you resent one another, are angry, etc, and dividing your finances and items may be more difficult than you thought. Living together really isn't a long-term solution, though. File for the divorce, because it can take quite awhile for it to be legal, but make plans for one or both of you to move out ASAP. In other words, if you're doing this, make sure you are doing this really because it is the best solution for you and not because you're pussy-footing about making a clear break. I'm not sure why you want to continue going to couples' therapy if you are filing for divorce. It doesn't sound like you're really understanding that a divorce means that you are severing from this person; if you don't want to be severed from her, then a divorce is not the next step.
posted by Polychrome at 1:30 PM on May 19, 2009

I kind of went through this a while back - I was living with my (unmarried) partner and our child. We lived together a long time after separating, almost a year. Its not impossible, but I would suggest two things:

1. Definitely plan and commit to an out date now. You say you don't have much money, so it could be easy to say to yourselves "well, this isn't so bad, we'll stay "roommates" for the next few months". DON'T do that. Commit to new places for August 1.

2. If possible, start writing down your what you do agree on now (like who gets what furniture, money, etc.) - but don't push it. It may be best to wait until you live separately.

Its possible to have an amicable separation. But its not any fun and don't push the friendship part too hard - you have both agreed to move your lives in separate directions, so focus on that for yourself.
posted by RajahKing at 1:41 PM on May 19, 2009

The answer here is probably very particular to you, your wife and your relationship. I divorced in my mid-20s under similar circumstances, and I can't imagine any way to keep this from being "very difficult emotionally," no matter how you go about it. I suspect such an arrangement could make a clean break more difficult, especially if she's feeling terrible about what she did, wishing you would take her back (I'm projecting here, so ignore me if I'm totally off base). My experience was that, after it was clear that the relationship was over, it became intensely awkward to be around my ex because I was so accustomed to treating her like my wife. I would reflexively move to touch her or kiss her on the cheek, but I'd catch myself, not no what to do instead, and suddenly feel nauseous. It was no fun at all. Avoiding being around her unless absolutely necessary was the only way I could keep my life bearable at first.
posted by jon1270 at 1:42 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

May I recommend Getting Divorced Without Ruining Your Life. It's going to be tough, but as long as you both communicate, communicate, communicate, you can probably do it.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 1:45 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

just because you are amicable doesn't mean she will be. You may have great intentions of it going amicably and going your separate ways when it's time, but things can quickly go downhill.


Be very aware of this. When my ex and I first confirmed with each other that it was time for divorce, we talked about making it as easy as possible, keeping the lawyers out of it, and helping each other setup our new, separate lives.

Due to a tough financial situation similar to yours, we agreed to continue living together in the marital home, but in separate rooms. That all went along fine and dandy for a couple months until she started building a huge resentment about the whole situation. Apparently, I was moving along with divorce procedure and preparing for single life a little too fast for her taste — maybe she wasn't as ready as she intimated.

Unbeknownst to me, late one night she went to the county courthouse and swore out a faux warrant and restraining order claiming that I had attacked her and that she was concerned for her future safety. Nothing could be further from the truth, but of course the sheriff's deputies didn't know that. So at 2:00AM they come knocking on the door requiring that I vacate the premises. I was given 10 minutes to pack a small bag, then wham, I was removed from my home and told I couldn't return.

It took five weeks for the hearing into the restraining order. Under oath, before the judge, she of course backed down from her original charge. But it was too late. I had been living in a motel room for more than a month having to wait for the hearing. During that time I realized it was time to just get out completely, so I made plans to move out of state, hired an attorney to draw up the divorce, and never trusted my ex again. I went back to the marital home, collected my clothes and other items that she would not want, let her have the rest, and never looked back.

I hope your situation does not end up like mine. I hope yours in fact is amicable and the two of you will remain friends for life. I tell my story merely as a warning that sometimes the best plans don't always materialize.
posted by netbros at 3:07 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

From a legal perspective, an amicable divorce in Canada would probably be based on the grounds of separation for at least a year. You can be separated while still living in the same space, but you may have to somehow show that you weren't living 'conjugally'. A good place for help would probably be a university or community legal clinic, and they can give you information on how you do that, whether it's starting by filing for a legal separation, or whatever. They can also give you information and resources about the paperwork for divorce down the road.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:35 PM on May 19, 2009

I've done it. Divorce after being married for three years - living together while we separate our lives. It wasn't exactly amicable, but there wasn't any particular nuclear event either.

It was the most painful two months of my life.

From my perspective, I would rather suffer the financial consequences of breaking a lease and ponying up for a new place right away than to ever go through that again. It drags out all of the bad emotions and leaves you two to wallow in your own crapulence. It's impossible to actually move *on* with your life when you're still living with the person you're trying to distance yourself from.

My experience was that, after it was clear that the relationship was over, it became intensely awkward to be around my ex because I was so accustomed to treating her like my wife. I would reflexively move to touch her or kiss her on the cheek, but I'd catch myself, not no what to do instead, and suddenly feel nauseous. It was no fun at all.

Yes, this was my experience exactly. Even when I wasn't angry or actively upset, I'd want to go and put my arms around my husband... only to remember that he was now my ex-husband. Wrapping my head around the separation and getting myself together emotionally only really happened once he left, and then it was like I could suddenly breathe because there wasn't an elephant sitting on my chest anymore.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:08 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had friends who did this for 8 months, it was obvious they didn't even slightly enjoy the process and they tried to avoid each other as much as possible. The atmosphere when walking into their house was icy!

Obviously it will depend on your own personalities and how dedicated you both are to making the transition as painless as possible. But from my own experience it's not good for human beings to live in limbo - if you can at least both work out a definite date by which one of you will be leaving the apartment that will certainly help.
posted by katala at 5:12 PM on May 19, 2009

I would say that you need to be out of each other's space, so that you can begin the long process of learning how to be with yourself. I say that as someone who just finalized a length divorce via separation agreement. We are friends, but he moved out almost immediately after we decided to split. You can MeFiMail me if you want to chat more about this.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:13 PM on May 19, 2009

I think that you can settle things peacefully while still living together...if thats what you want. Divorce costs a lot of money, and money seems hard to come by these days. It will probably take a toll on you emotionally, as some days will be better than others, but it probably would be the best logical thing to do at this point. Good luck keeping things "civil", maintain your dignity, and good luck. You have resilience to be able to even let her back in the door.
posted by Direwolf at 6:16 PM on May 19, 2009

I would strongly advise trying to live together under the same roof while going through a divorce. Your home needs to be a place where you can retreat to. If you live with the person who is going to become the most centralized focus of stress, you will have no respite. Break the lease, find a subletter, even couch surf with friends as much as possible if you are unwilling to "throw her out" as you indicate. Staying under the same roof will be detrimental to any concept of a future friendship, and staying under the same roof wil absolutely destroy any sense of amicability you think you'll have in this divorce. As odd as it sounds, even by throwing her out of the house you will be doing both of you a favor.

Divorce involves a lot of processing and stages. This means, irrational anger when you find $5K expenses in her hobbies or an inability to just find space to be able to have a private conversation on the phone about your former partner. Even worse: what happens if she starts seeing someone before she leaves?

The pre-divorce position you are in right now is a time of learning and ignoring. You don't want to know about how your ex-wife's day was. You don't want to know that she's seeing someone. You don't want to know that she's spending her pre-divorce time spending exorbitant money at bars when you know she shouldn't be. See here's the thing: you need the physical space to be able to let go of what's going on. Even if you separate financially, separate your belongings and otherwise seem to be leading totally separate lives - you'll still see her new "independent" self doing something completely self centered and infuriating - something which if you were married she'd have at least had the courtesey and decency to consider your feelings before she did... point being: her mere presence is about to annoy the immortal snot out of you. The sad thing is its normal... this is how divorce works...

I'd almost say that no matter what the cost, if there was a way to get out from a lease early that I'd take it. If you lend a friend $50 and you never see that person again, consider it money well spent...
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:37 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

There was an NPR piece on "collaborative divorce" a few days ago that was interesting. Depressing as hell, but interesting. Googling "collaborative divorce" gets lots of stuff.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:54 PM on May 19, 2009

My ex-wife and I lived (with our new partners) in our old house together for a few months. This was another 'amicable' divorce. In California, so I cannot comment on the legal bit at all. We still had dinner together and didn't have any frostiness - that came after my new gf and I had left.
posted by jet_silver at 10:14 PM on May 19, 2009

Yes, my ex-husband and I did this very thing. We had a two bedroom town home and he just moved downstairs. He wasn't sure what his next move was going to be so he just stayed almost until the divorce was final.
posted by getawaysticks at 9:17 AM on May 20, 2009

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