Same-sex Split
April 28, 2011 4:05 PM   Subscribe

My same-sex partner and I have separated (to my shock and opposition) after a few years of hard financial times. While I am holding out hope that she will come to her senses, I need help deciding on what to do (especially regarding our house) in case we can't resolve our issues.

We've been together for over 5 years. She makes a professional salary, and while I have held a para-professional position throughout our relationship, burger-flippers make more than me. Over the last 3 years, I have gone back to school to get a MLIS degree in order to qualify for higher paying jobs. And then the economy collapsed. And then library funding was slashed. Plus, my library's working environment has been contentious at best. Faculty cry on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. But, it's pretty much the only game in town. Which is one of the problems - other than employment, this town is pretty rad. I have a great community. Something I've been searching for my whole life. And it's completely intertwined with the life I built with my partner. I feel shattered by this because it's as if the culmination of 5 years of work is just within reach, but about to be smacked away.

It's been a rough year, and I know it's taken a toll on her. I have taken other steps to improve our situation. I've been going to therapy, and some sessions in the beginning (4 months ago) she attended with me. When questioned, she said 100% she wanted to stay in the relationship, she loved me, etc. My anxious, depressive mood (brought on by lack of opportunity in my field, both locally and globally) has significantly improved. I'm not bringing home my work issues anymore. I have had some big-time interviews. And now, four months later, her tune has changed. She says she can't do it anymore and that we're done. While she has come with me for a few more sessions to my therapist, she refuses to go to a couples counselor. I know she is stubborn and don't expect her to change her mind any time soon (even though I hope she does). She claims she still cares for me and this is very unusual behavior for her. I don't know how long I should wait to see if she has second thoughts.

I have been staying in the house, and she with friends. This is not sustainable in the long run. She bought the house before we met, but I came on as co-owner 3 years after plunking down a chunk of money. Since then, we have paid the mortgage equally, and split the cost of significant property improvements (remodeling and outbuilding). There have been other improvements to the house that may not have been as equal (like roof, furnace, water heater, electrical improvements), but I have also put in a LOT of sweat equity. Currently at my salary, there is no way I could carry the mortgage myself. However, with the potential new faculty-level jobs that would double my salary I would be able to carry the mortgage. I just have to wait a little bit (prob 2-3 months) to find out if I will be getting them. Regardless, I have no savings to buy her out. Another part of me thinks it would be wise to have the opposite happen. But if this is the case, how would I go about calculating a fair buyout?

So to sum up the questions:
1. Advice regarding how long I should wait to see if she's just having a lash-out flip-out.
2. Short-term residence
3. Long term what to do with the house.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
3. Find a liberal female retired judge to mediate. We did that and got through our divorce without any bitterness.

1. Six months
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:23 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. maybe a few weeks
2. stay there. If you are unable to make mortgage payments, perhaps ask your ex to chip in for now, or ask the bank to give some temporary reprieve.
3. get a lawyer. Likely she will buy you out... your payments and equity should result in you having quite a bit of equity in the house. Not sure where you are... if you were in Canada, you'd be considered common-law married with all the rules that go along with a breakup of that sort. If you're in somewhere that doesn't recognize same-sex spouses, you may have a harder time of it. But even still, the house is an asset that you both own jointly, and the lawyer can help with calculating and negotiating your equity in it. There are rules in place that she may have to give you interim support while all this plays out, again depending on the rules of your jurisdiction.

Sorry that this happened, it's never easy :(
posted by kevinsp8 at 4:23 PM on April 28, 2011

I'm so sorry you're going through this.

I think you should wait at least a couple of weeks to see if she's lashing out. If she decides she wants back in, she needs to communicate more about the issues that finally made her snap.

When you say you're co-owner, does that mean you're listed on the deed? If she's the one who wants to end the relationship and move on, she needs to put her money where her mouth is and chip in for the cost. She needs to continue paying her share of the mortgage, no matter where she lives.

Does your area, or any larger cities in your state, have any LGBT resource centers, newsletters, etc.? In our area, we have a number of niche-specific publications, and a ton of attorneys advertise in there, primarily those who specialize in various flavors of family law. They could give you the best idea about what your state's property law says for same-sex/"unrelated" (sorry) couples, from the house down to the fair split of assets, etc. (You probably know this.)

You CAN'T make plans for your best-case scenario (faculty job, etc.). You need to make plans to protect yourself and the things you know are your own. If it pans out, great, but you can't spend time counting on something that might not happen, especially with all of the weird intangibles that come with a faculty job.

With the house: again, if her name is on the deed and she's the one who wants out, she needs to pay her share of the mortgage. Period. If you worry that you won't be able to sell, consider taking in a roommate or renting out the house. Especially if you've done improvements, you might put it up as an option for visiting faculty members.

As a side note, my parents separated after 35 years of marriage but got back together four months later. The cost of living separately can be a hell of a motivator.

I know that getting back together isn't always the best option, but I wish you strength and courage over the next several months, whatever you do.
posted by Madamina at 4:27 PM on April 28, 2011

I think it would be wise to at least have a consultation with a lawyer who is familiar with the law regarding same sex couples in your jurisdiction.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:58 PM on April 28, 2011

Unfortunately, in America same sex couples have very different rights depending upon the state they live in. If you could contact one of the mods with your location, it might help in knowing what your options are, especially if you are married.
posted by klangklangston at 5:45 PM on April 28, 2011

A good rule of thumb: if you cannot currently afford a house, do not make any commitments based on the hope that you will be able to afford it in the future. Things change, and what looks within reach now may well be out of reach in a year. Your situation, especially with her having a longer track record of ownership, probably calls for her to buy you out.

There are ways to account for non-monetary contributions. A rough estimate of the hours that you (and she) have put into "sweat equity", multiplied by a modest hourly rate, could be factored in to the calculations. If both sides can be rational rather than emotional, it could lead to an agreement.
posted by yclipse at 6:09 PM on April 28, 2011

So, essentially, she's been financially supporting you for five years, you've spent much of that time being anxious and depressed and she doesn't want to do the therapy thing even though you do? Sounds to me just like she said, she's had enough and it's over. Work out how much money you've put into the house, offer a clean break if she buys you out for that sum and she'll probably take it. Essentially it's her house, she bought it before she met you and put most of the money in, so you'll have to use the money you get to start again. If you've got a good job coming you'll be ok financially at least and even if you don't get those jobs you'll survive. People break up, it happens, it's not the end of the world.
posted by joannemullen at 11:49 PM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would definitely recommend speaking with a family law attorney:

(1) You two do break up - the laws are very different (yay, discrimination!) in the various states, and you want to have an advocate or at least someone to advise you on your rights.

(2) You two do stay together - for lgbtq families, especially in states where rights are not recognized, it is important (for the hard reasons contained in your question) to make sure that your rights as a couple/family are protected going forward - for purposes of inheritance or if you do split in the future.

As many lgbtq family lawyers cynically will remark, the greatest part of "marriage equality" is divorce. You will want to protect yourselves for the future.
posted by anya32 at 11:12 AM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

1) I would not count on this. Everything you've said makes her seem not prone to making big snap decisions that she regrets later. Even calm, patient people can be pushed to their breaking point if a situation goes on for years. From what I know of those people (and from personal experience, both sides), when the breaking point is reached, that's it. She may very well still care about you, but no longer believe it's healthy for her to be with you. So I don't think there's a specific time frame for you to wait for. If she wants to contact you to apologize and/or reconcile, she will, but I don't think waiting a few weeks or months and asking her if she's changed her mind yet will do any good. (As an aside, I'm not sure characterizing her decision as lashing out or freaking out is really fair. There's a difference between "sudden" and "irrational." Especially don't use that assumption when talking to her.)

2) It sounds like she's letting you stay in the house for the immediate short term. I'd take her up on that, and decide on other arrangements after discussing what to do about the house with a lawyer. She should be paying her half of the mortgage even while you're living there.

3) See a lawyer. It makes infinitely more sense for her to buy you out than vice versa. If you can wait to use that money to relocate, do it. (As another aside, if you get all the way to the stage where you're discussing money with a lawyer, I'd be pretty sure she's sure about her decision. And if, by some chance, she changes her mind afterward, you can get back together in the short term without co-owning a house. It will probably take you a while to trust that she won't want to leave again, as it is.)
posted by wending my way at 2:24 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

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