How can I end this relationship in the least harmful way?
January 9, 2013 2:52 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I have been together for 15+ years. We are no longer able to get along and function together, and we need to break up. We have an eight year old kid and financial problems. How do we handle the logistics of separating?

Please assume that reconciliation is off the table. I don't think the details of why our relationship has failed are really pertinent to the specific question, but there is frequent conflict, arguments, and all-around unhappiness. The situation is toxic for all three of us and needs to change. My girlfriend is currently being treated for depression. I probably should be getting treatment for depression.

We live in an area where rents are high and are currently renting a house month-to-month without any kind of signed lease. I have a job, but no savings; she is on a fixed income and cannot afford to rent her own place. She would probably qualify for housing assistance, but there are waitlists for that and so far she has not applied. She does not have family or friends she could stay with.

She is aware of the fact that I want to break up and move out, we have been talking about it, but between her depression and the fact that her options are fairly limited she has not been inclined to fully participate in the process. If I just went and found an apartment for myself and moved out, she would be unable to cover the rent on our current house on her own and would almost certainly face eviction. I don't want to put her (or our landlord) in that position.

I can continue with the status quo for a while, but not indefinitely. This is not the environment my kid deserves to be living in, but I don't want to make his mother homeless. I really don't know what to do, how I should be handling this, or where I should be looking for help or answers. What should I do?

(I can be reached off the green at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Is it possible to help her relocate to someplace cheaper to live (like from Los Angeles to Bakersfield, or the equivalent)?

As far as I can see, that's the only other option besides housing assistance for her issues.

As for you:

At some point you're going to need to face the possibility of seeking full custody of your child. And, if you're in the US, you will shortly absolutely be facing the need to pay child support, particularly if she goes on assistance. You really ought to consider talking to an attorney who specializes in family law (in my state, custody is handled by one court if the parents are married/divorced and a different court if they've never been married - make sure the attorney you talk to is really familiar with custody issues.)

In any case, get that counseling for your depression. The therapist can also help you figure out resources for the bigger issues at hand here.

Oh, and have your child see a counselor, too. This kind of stuff - conflict, parental depression, breakup, etc. - is really not-good for children. Feel free to MeMail if you'd like to find out why I know this.
posted by SMPA at 3:06 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah my folks fought a lot and things were much better once they finaly split up. For your kids sake you should do something. I, of course, don't know your situation, but it seems like you hold all the cards here. Could you move in to seperate rooms and make it clear that you will not tolerate any more fighting or yelling at you or the kid, and if so you will leave-- with child? Maybe help her in the mean time at least get on a waiting list for housing?

I apprecate that you do not want to leave your gf to cruel fate, but she is an adult, how ever broken, and your kid is a kid. Your duty is clear, right?
posted by d4nj450n at 3:17 PM on January 9, 2013

You're pretty much going to have to talk to a lawyer to get custody issues straightened out, if nothing else.
posted by empath at 3:31 PM on January 9, 2013

You say you don't want to make your kid's mother homeless, but don't mention making it homeless - do you assume you'd get custody? If your girlfriend gets the kid, you would be paying child support - would that be enough for her to afford a place in your current area? How much child support do you think you'd be paying, and can you still afford your own place after that payment?
Or, if you get the kid, are you saying that you can afford a place for you and kid to live? If you 'just got an apartment and moved out', would you be taking kid with you?
posted by jacalata at 3:39 PM on January 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

Where's family -- hers or yours? Who is family who you have a good enough relationship with to lean on for temporary assistance? You say your partner is on a fixed income, does that mean she can live anywhere? If so, I suggest you start looking for cheaper rents in other locations quickly.

You will either be primary custodian of your child and/or on the hook for support payments. I think you need to go visit her therapist together and start talking about next steps. To do this "the best way," you both need to be committed to your child's welfare and to helping each other get their footing.

You will have a lawyer involved. That's the only way to put things in order at the start.
posted by amanda at 3:50 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

A couples therapist will help the two of you actively negotiate an exit strategy. Agree with everyone who's telling you not to assume you'll get primary custody just because your partner is on a fixed income, even if it's disability related to mental health issues. Lots of people with mental health issues are good primary caregivers for children (though obviously lots aren't, but then again lots of people with no mental health diagnoses are shit caregivers, anyway I ramble, but).
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:39 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agree, too, that once the two of you have created an exit strategy, getting your partner's therapist into the mix to support her through the process is key.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:41 PM on January 9, 2013

Depending on the state you live in, you may be assumed to have a common law marriage and may have to pay spousal support in light of that.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 6:41 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I just went and found an apartment for myself and moved out, she would be unable to cover the rent on our current house on her own and would almost certainly face eviction. I don't want to put her (or our landlord) in that position.

Legally, you probably can't do that. You're going to have to pay child support at the very least.
posted by empath at 6:45 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

She should immediately apply for housing assistance. I have no expertise, but you should find someone who does, in your area. She should find out about food stamps, and any other forms of assistance. This is what it's for.

She's on some form of disability? So she's home full-time? Is it a good situation for your child? Assuming she'll have physical custody, you'll be required to pay child support. Your state's website may have a chart that will tell you how much the minimum is for your income.

Right now, you're thinking about immediate issues, but you'll plan better if you think about the next 10 years of co-parenting. Divorce is hard on kids, and your child should be your 1st priority; it will be the court's 1st priority. You will need a lawyer; you can save legal fees by collecting information on any bank accounts and assets, and by reading up on divorce & child custody in your state.
posted by theora55 at 8:07 PM on January 9, 2013

I suspect from the This is not the environment my kid deserves to be living in (&c) that we can extrapolate that this is not somebody looking to be absent or a deadbeat...

I think the therapist involvement is probably critical given the depression and the apparently limited agency of Mom; I'm not totally sure a lawyer is necessary. If the two of you approach everything with 'What is in our child's best interests?' and go off the honest answer to that, and you are both reliable adults committed to that -- eh, lots of split-up parents manage just fine without state oversight. You should each consult with an attorney, separately, to find out your rights and responsibilities, but after that whether or not it's necessary to file paperwork, and whether you might file that paperwork on your own, is up to the two of you to decide.

I'm not sure what to add to the above other than that it will probably be less painful if you have committed to and accepted that you, your soon-to-be ex, and unfortunately, your child, are all going to feel pretty damn poor for a spell. (Mom can't afford the rent on a house -- okay -- probably if you can afford to rent a house, you can probably afford two squalid 1bdrm basement apartments where the kid has a bedroom and the parent has a pull-out couch living room "bed" for a stint?) And the transition to whatever the new normal is will be excruciatingly difficult and painful at times, but it's a transition and there's an end in sight, and you sound like a stand-up dude so your and your child's new normal will be great. With a well-planned transition phase, Mom's certainly won't be worse than it is now. Vaya con dios, OP.
posted by kmennie at 9:51 PM on January 9, 2013

You need to consider this a divorce. Even though you're not legally married, your long cohabitation and the presence of the child make it effectively the same thing.

That gives you the standard married couple options: therapy, mediation, divorce.

Throughout all this, your primary consideration should be protecting your child and helping him or her land in a safe place. This is a moral question, but it will also be a legal question. You've had shared custody since the birth of the child. You can just leave him/her there, and you can't just take them.

Figuring out what how the child fits in and will be best taken care of is key. It's what you should be thinking about first. Other things will follow.
posted by alms at 7:01 AM on January 10, 2013

Okay, everyone needs to go downtown and get things sorted out.

Financially, it may be better for you to get custody of the child since you're able to support yourself and the kid.

Your wife will then qualify for lots of different assistance, housing, food, disability/welfare, etc.

You can have the kid in a stable situation, your wife can be dealing with her situation. Once things have settled down, and you're each squared away, then you can deal with custody, visitation, etc.

Call Legal Aid where you are, and see if you can have someone help you both sort it out, get the resources you need and get everyone into a better situation.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:17 AM on January 10, 2013

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