the (housing) logistics of separation
August 4, 2013 6:46 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I have decided to separate. We have 2 daughters (12 and 2) and a house and live in a major city where rent is astronomical. How on earth does this work?

Although this process isn't easy, and is very sad, we are amicable about the process. For the record, I'm in therapy, and we've talked about seeing a couples counselor, not to try and "fix" the relationship, but to try and help us through the transition. My therapist is urging me to focus on myself and my transition before worrying about logistics, as I am prone to anxiety anyway, but I can't not.

Things concerning to me:
Renting? Buying? Where? 2 bedrooms or 3? How take my daughter to school every day and be at work by 8… on the bus? Joint custody is the ideal, but he works from home and has more flexibility in his schedule... will I lose my girls? Should I live near my oldest's current school or should we move out to the suburbs where rent is a little cheaper and schools are better, but everything is even farther away? How do I pay rent and keep paying toward the mortgage? Is buying a condo stupid? What else should I be worrying abut that I'm not already? I'm looking at padmapper and zillow and constantly vacillating between cautious optimism and despair. I can't afford our current mortgage on my own. Currently we make about the same amount of money, although historically he's made about 2-3 times what I do.

There is no rush. We are probably looking at 3 months out to do anything, and I'll totally admit that maybe this is all so new that I'm having a hard time conceptualizing anything. I know that people do this all the time, and I am prepared to have a less than optimal situation for a while, but I really don't want to make my girls have to make sacrifices since they will be going through enough anyway. And I am lucky because I actually make a decent salary… on paper… before taxes. But my take home is like 2400/month. I have maybe $1000 in my bank account currently. I live in Portland, Oregon if it makes a difference.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am so sorry. One thing that my friend is doing to get through her amicable separation is to commit to researching one, and ONLY one, aspect of her separation per day. This allows her to get on with her life and still work towards the future of her family as a dual household develops. I feel like maybe you would benefit from alternating between spending a day on just you and your emotions, and then a day on logistics/etc. Anxiety isn't productive. Being obsessed with fixing everything right now isn't going to help you or more importantly your children. They need you to put on the oxygen mask first so you can do right by them second. Listen to your therapist and make sure you are helping yourself as often as you are starting to figure out what is going to happen next. You do not need to know NOW how you will take your daughters to school and make it to work in time. You only need to figure out the day to day stuff at this time.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:55 PM on August 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

I would talk to a lawyer before you do anything. I know that in MA there are repercussions based on who leaves the house first. Even the most amicable divorces can become not amicable- it's hard to know, and having a lawyer who is looking out for your best interest can be helpful. They also can help you know what other people have done etc. I would also say that as with anything with kids , things change- so anything you agree to is for the next 2-3 years and will change as your kids grow older. When I split with my ex we had an agreement where he had them 2 weekends a month, and I had them for the rest of the month- my kids were 4 and 7 when we split, I had been a stay at home mom and his job was nuts. Now, after 8 years, my 15 yo now lives with him and I have my 12 yo with me. He still takes the 12 yo 2 weekends a month and I have them for the other 2 weekends. Many of my friends have a 50/50 split-but now that the kids are older they seem to be moving between houses more fluidly now that they can come and go as they please via public transport. I know of a few people who have kept the family home and the parents move between the family house and then they either have an apartment they share or individual places to stay. You will also get tax benefits from being a single parent which will help with your money situation.
posted by momochan at 7:06 PM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Because you have children, put them first and see a lawyer. There should be no question of, "will I lose my kids?," etc. There should only be, "What am I entitled to under the law, and what are my children entitled to under the law."

Do not let your therapist, friends, or your anxiety-ridden emotions rule your decisions. Put your kids and yourself and your welfare first. You are entitled to a roof over your head, as are your kids, why do you think your husband should have more than you, the mother of his children, and your children have? Uh-uh, sister, get a lawyer and get that low self esteem crap right OUT of your head, girlfriend, because that will not fly in this world of reality. Do it friendly, yeah, but do it right for you and your kids.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:14 PM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a rural/exurban area, but here's how my family did it:

For the first six months or a year, my mom rented an apartment while my father stayed in the house. Despite the fact that my dad had a 4 bedroom house and my mom had a 2 bedroom apartment, my parents were able to split custody just fine.

After a year or so, my mom moved in with her boyfriend, in a house they bought together. My dad ended up selling the house we grew up in and moved somewhere else in the same town. And, again, no problems with custody agreements, there.

In terms of how custody was split, we spent Monday and Tuesday at one parent's house, and Wednesday and Thursday at the other parent's house. Weekends shifted back and forth, so we spent Friday with whichever parent had the weekend. My dad had a traditional 9-5, and we either did after school activities or the latch-key thing on his days depending on the kid (I was a teenager when my parents split up). My mom worked a much more varied schedule, and as much as possible she tried to work more heavily on my dad's part of the week and weekends we weren't with her. That said, yeah, sometimes she had to work during our time with her and we did exactly what we did with our dad's work schedule on those days -- a combo of activities or being home alone depending on the situation.

Re logistical things like getting to work/school/daycare, those arrangements changed when my parents split up. For example one of my brothers was in public high school, and his school district changed when my dad sold our old house. Carpools and the logistics of after-school activities had to change in a lot of instances, too. But, you know, that's life. Sometimes you switch daycares, or join a different soccer team, or have a longer commute. I don't remember there being a lot of noise about this sort of thing in terms of my parents' divorce and the custody arrangement. Though it was stressful for my brothers (I was old enough that it didn't affect me as much).
posted by Sara C. at 7:31 PM on August 4, 2013

: "I have maybe $1000 in my bank account currently. I live in Portland, Oregon if it makes a difference."

One thing that's become clear is that divorce is really damn expensive, even when court costs are trivial. Neither of you have any more income, yet the housing expense is likely to roughly double. I doubt with only a thousand dollars you'll be buying/second place until the home is sold.

That said, if schools are better and the rents lower in the suburbs, I'm curious what part of downtown Portland you think is beneficial for the children to be near by. Obviously for you the commute might suck, but at least there's public transit via the MAX that can make it more bearable than driving.
posted by pwnguin at 7:36 PM on August 4, 2013

When my wife and I split, I moved to a room-mate situation nearby and she stayed in our home with the kids. At weekends we swapped so I was with the kids and she was on her own. I was close enough for kids to walk over to my place and stay on a fold-out bed if they wanted. It worked pretty well for all of us.

A lawyer on your side is good.

Though it's not really relevant: after several years apart, when we both felt disentangled from each other, we got back together, and are still together 25 years later.
posted by anadem at 9:39 PM on August 4, 2013

I'm sorry for all of you involved in such a difficult situation. I can only imagine how hard this must be. I can only share another perspective, and maybe it's just weird, but maybe it will spark some creative thinking.

I used to mentor a teenaged girl who was one of several children in a family divided by divorce. The parents lived in the same town and (from my point of view) hated one another. But they communicated for the children's sake and in order to coordinate custody and activities. Both parents struggled financially as a direct result of the divorce. The children all moved, every other Sunday, between two homes (made worse because with no family home, both parents were forced to move almost annually as their rentals were sold out from under them).

Their rooms, walls, beds, books and toys changed all the time, their environment and schedules lacked consistency and all I could think was I wonder what it would look like if they could stay put and their better-equipped parents handled the brunt of the constant change. I imagined one comfortable family home where mom and dad rotated out every two weeks to their respective apartments. But the kids? They stayed put, had the same rooms, walls, beds, etc, and the same neighbor friends and neighborhood ice cream shop. You get the idea. They weren't uprooted.

A different approach with its own set of issues to tackle, and I'm not saying that is the answer, but bottom line you want to maintain the greatest amount of stability for your children. If you are amicable, maybe there's something to that kind of arrangement. If you put your heads together with your mutual love and concern for your children in mind, I bet you can come up with some creative solutions.

Also, definitely look into a local mentoring organization, like Big Brothers Big Sisters. Sign your kids up and they will have yet another trusted adult in their lives, one who is completely focused on them when they are together. All the best to you.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 9:47 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was also going to suggest that if possible, let the children stay put in one place and the parents rotate in and out.
posted by Dansaman at 9:55 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

OK, I don't know if this helps but if in case it does, this is what my parents did when they divorced. I was 7, sibling was 4:

My mom stayed put in our house and my dad bought a flat about 10 mins drive away.

Every weekday morning, Dad would pick us up from Mom's and take us to school. Mom would pick us up after school and take us back to her house where we would spend the day, and then go to Dad's for dinner. He'd drop us back at Mom's after dinner. At the end of the week we'd spend the weekend at our Dad's. On Saturday he'd take us over to Mom's and we'd all have lunch together as a family.

Logistically this meant we had two sets of stuff for both households, a room in each house, etc. We grew up feeling very loved and secure. It was an unvarying routine which I think is important for children, even though it meant a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, we knew what to expect at all times. My parents did a really good job in affording us stability and I felt like I got a lot of quality time with both sets of them. (Also, bonus, we had two sets of pets at each households - cats at Dad's, dogs at Mom's.)
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:59 AM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

If things are amicable and stay that way, a lot of options are available as far as schedules and housing.

(1) The first thing I would sit down and discuss with your future ex is whether it is financially feasible for one of you to stay in the house and assume the mortgage. What typically happens is either one of two things: (a) one spouse moves out and the other keeps the house; the equity in the house is divided among both spouses (the "staying" spouse may need to make a lump-sum payment to the leaving spouse, or other assets such as retirement savings can be shuffled around so that both spouses get a fair share of the marital assets). After that is all settled, the staying spouse has possession of the house and the leaving spouse should be taken *off* the mortgage/title. It would be unusual for the leaving spouse to continue directly paying part of the mortgage for the house they no longer occupy, although money may change hands in the form of child support or alimony depending on custody arrangements and income. (b) the marital home is put up for sale and both spouses find new places to live.

(2) The practical side of all this is that it is often necessary for both spouses to downsize by moving out into smaller quarters. Also, the closer you can live to your ex-spouse, the easier life is for everyone. If it makes sense to move to a different school district then ideally you would both move there.

(3) As far as schedules: this is tough (as you've realized) with a 12-yo because there's usually not before/aftercare offered. For some people this becomes the infamous latchkey situation. Depending on where you all wind up she might wind up walking herself to school or being responsible for getting herself on the bus herself. You may be able to find a neighbor kid at the same school who she could go hang out with in the mornings for a bit until its time to get to the bus/walk to school.

The closer you are to your ex, however, the more possible it would be to be flexible about schedules. For example, I have a friend who worked at home, and whose ex used to drop the kids off at his place in the morning for breakfast and getting to school and he would also pick them up in the afternoon before taking them back to mom's for dinner/bedtime. Then they alternated weekends. That way they each had about the same number of hours with the kids, shared one meal every day, the kids were in the same place at the same time every weekday, and there was no need for before/aftercare.

I've also known a family that did exactly what AnOrigamiLife suggests: keep the marital home as the kids' home and rotate out to a single 1-br apt. that they shared when they weren't on parent duty. It's known as "bird's nesting" and there are some parenting-after-divorce books that mention it. If you google that term you'll find quite a few discussions of the pros and cons.

I can't say it worked for my friend, because there wound up being a huge amount of animosity between my friend and her ex due to the circumstances of the divorce and the changes in attitudes/behaviors as the situation went on, and it was difficult for them to share not only parenting responsibilities but also the same living quarters.
posted by drlith at 5:30 AM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here's what I'd do in your situation.

Is there a way you and your soon-to-be-ex can rent/buy a duplex or some other multi-housing unit?

How nice would it be for your children to be so close to both parents? Also, if he's got more flexibility, he can get them breakfast and off to school.

You all are still a family, even if the adults are going in different directions romantically. Each having your own home, but very close together will provide continuity for the kids, and you can still co-parent effectively.

It may not be the forever answer, but it can be a good transitional answer.

Good luck with whatever you decide.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:54 AM on August 5, 2013

I'm local and have recommendations if you like for mediators/couples counselors/lawyers or just some commiseration.
posted by vespabelle at 12:09 PM on August 5, 2013

I can tell you what my family did. My dad moved out when I was (I think) 11 and my brother was 9. We were living in the Chicago suburbs in a town with very little apartment stock. My parents didn't actually divorce for another two years or so. My dad found an apartment across town. We spent weekends where the Friday's date had an odd number with him. Honestly, I don't think my dad wanted us any more than that. (I'm going to keep making these negative comments about my dad. I think he's actually a decent guy, but with no idea what to do with anyone between the ages of maybe six and fifteen.) We didn't even keep clothes at his place until my junior year of high school or so. There was never any talk of us going to his place during the week. (He lived within walking distance of the school and the big logistical challenge in junior high was getting home after after-school activities. It would have made sense to give us keys and have mom pick us up there later. This seriously never occurred to me until now, that's how far off the radar it was.)

After my parents actually got divorced, my dad moved into Chicago proper, and we moved closer to the high school (mostly, I think, for financial reasons, but it also meant my brother and I could walk everywhere). I know my mom contemplated switching school districts, but I'm not sure if she decided against it or if we happened to find a place in the same district. We still spent odd-numbered weekends with my dad. We'd catch the train after school and he'd meet us at the station downtown. We'd take the train home Sunday afternoon. (So for part of eighth grade I was turning up at school with a suitcase twice a month because we went straight to the station. God this sounds absurd. Moral: make sure your kids (or at least the 12 year old) have clothes in both places.) I grew up in a very, uh, close-minded and kind of isolated suburb. By the end of high school, I realised that I'd had this massive opportunity that my classmates hadn't. I could navigate public transportation, I could walk around a city by myself, etc, which were things they never had cause to do and would never really have been allowed to do. I don't know if it was just me, but I never felt like I missed out on things with friends because I was at my dad's. If there was some school event on an odd-numbered weekend, where being 30 miles away was a problem, my parents would swap weekends. I played chess Friday nights in high school, so if we had an away match, I'd take the train Saturday morning, that sort of thing.

If it's not apparent, I think I'm kind of bitter towards my dad for leaving (I talk as if my dad left, but I'm not actually sure what happened). I think I was also probably more upset than I realise about us moving. I don't know that I'd want to drive past our old house, for instance. But really, things were just fine. You're going to do okay by your kids. I've told this long story, so what was the point? Things became a lot easier after we moved and that had a lot to do with independence. We could walk to school, the library, get a hair cut, catch the train, go to the grocery store if we needed (or if mom phoned the library and said "When my children arrive, please tell them to buy milk on the way home."). That we could get to dad's on our own was important too, I think (and I'm sure made my mom's life easier). How much this applies to you is impacted by your younger daughter, but I did want to say there's really nothing wrong with having your older daughter walk to school or sending her on the bus.
posted by hoyland at 12:14 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

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