Separation without moving out?
September 20, 2014 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Can you have a trial separation while still both living in the same house?

Our marriage has been on a slow but steady decline since we had our first daughter five years ago. (She now has a sister, age 2.) At this point the environment at home has become so toxic that its negative effect on the girls has to be outweighing any positive effect of us staying together.

We've tried everything we can to fix it, including seeing multiple couples' counselors for years, but for whatever reason, nothing is working. It's like we've changed into two people who are no longer compatible. We can be parents or spouses, not both.

So. It seems like a trial separation would be one logical next step. But what if moving out isn't an option? For us, it's mostly a financial/logistical issue--we're both full-time freelancers, financially overextended as it is--and for me as a father, moving out is apparently one of the worst things you can do at this point.

But is a relationship separation without a physical one even possible? Our house is small and only one story, and with two daycare/school pick-ups and drop-offs per day, it's not like we'd be able to actually avoid each other. Are there any other (logistical) options?
posted by El Curioso to Human Relations (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My feeling is no. One of you has to actually move out.

(If you are in thd US and your state recognizes legal seperation, I suspect the IRS would call shenanigans, if they noticed or cared.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:32 PM on September 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Nope. How could that possibly work? You both date other people and bring them home to the same house where you both live? That's no good. And if you don't see other people, you're in the same relationship you are now -- a broken one. But you're living together and still in it.
posted by J. Wilson at 12:42 PM on September 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's not a separation if you're still living together.
posted by hollygoheavy at 12:45 PM on September 20, 2014 [10 favorites]

No. Absolutely not. IANAL, IANYL, but legal separation as far as I understand it means separate residences. The court will call shenanigans, not just the IRS. To get divorced, you must be separated for 6 months minimum prior.

Aside from the legal ramifications, you already know this will not end well. Highly unlikely to be a good time for anyone, especially your kids. This is not a personal failing on your part, this is normal. I would suggest finding a friend or family member to stay with while you sort out your finances and look for a new place, possibly with roommates at first if money is that tight. Don't feel bad about this. Do what you need to do.

If you and your wife cannot create a healthy home environment together for your children as a couple, please make that your focus as separated parents. Prioritizing your potential property rights over the happiness and stability of your children? Not cool.

So move out, lawyer up, and for your kids' sake, please try to keep it civil and don't thrust them into the middle of this. They are young enough that this doesn't have to be super damaging if you and your wife handle this with grace.

Good luck with your situation. I hope things get better for your family.
posted by ananci at 12:52 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

It would be really hard and may not work at all.

My ex and I (and our two sons) lived in a small 2 bedroom, 1 bath (jack-and-jill bath, though) apartment of just under 1000 sq ft when we verbally agreed to divorce. The divorce was a rather long, drawn-out matter. One thing I did was I bought a small fold-out sleeper sofa and turned the dining room into my "office" where I spent most of my time, including sleeping there more often than not. I slowly began moving most of my personal belongings out of the bedroom and moved more and more of his stuff into the bedroom.

Over time, we turned the master bedroom into a de facto studio apartment for him and he was able to access the shower and toilet from a door in the master bedroom and had his own sink. So we really only had to see him when he came and went and when he used the kitchen.

During my divorce, I did see other people. Those relationships were mostly online and by phone. On the few occasions that I saw someone in person, I met them some place other than my home. Of course, that was probably facilitated by the fact that I am female. I met one man at his office, one at his home, another at a hotel. Since you work from home and don't have money to spare, if you want to see other people, you would have serious challenges to arrange that without bringing them home. I think bringing them home while still living with your wife would be a shit show waiting to happen.

But my situation was not a trial separation. My situation was a case where we were both clear the marriage was dead, but financial and logistical issues made it impossible to immediately separate out lives. We filed paperwork and gradually extricated ourselves from each other's lives. It took a few years, but we did divorce.

However, one of the men I was emotionally attached to during that time had filed for divorce a few years before I met him and continued to live with the wife while they both saw other people. He kept it on the down-low in part because she was insanely jealous and I think in part because they both had careers. I am not sure it was common knowledge that they were divorcing. They had young children and that is part of why it took about five years for her to move out. (He kept the kids.) She moved out after he and I broke up.

So, yeah, sometimes people do things like this. It isn't easy and I don't know if it works as a trial separation -- like me and my husband, the man I knew was sure his marriage was dead -- but that doesn't mean you can't be the first to pull it off successfully. On preview, it will also depend on your state laws.
posted by Michele in California at 12:56 PM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

You acknowledge that the environment at home is so toxic that it's affecting your children. Continuing to live in the same house is not going to improve things, or tell you anything about whether or not a more permanent split is necessary.

Also, stop getting custody advice from the internet. The links you provided give extremely incomplete information on a complex subject that varies a lot by location and situation. Hire a real lawyer.
posted by kagredon at 12:58 PM on September 20, 2014 [17 favorites]

Can you? Sure. My ex and I did this. But you have to be in a place where you can be friendly to each other, and keep your finances seperate. You have to find a way to explain to your kids that won't have them wondering if they are going to be the deciding factor. And get legal advice about how this may or may not affect divorce.
Should you when you two are not able to be civil? No.
posted by SyraCarol at 1:00 PM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well I'd not be so hasty to say No, myself.

You are not required to be legally separated to test out a trial separation. Not every state requires it in order to file, and divorce isn't always the culmination of separation anyway. Also, the links you provided are generic, but how custody and property rights work in your state will be specific. Get real legal advice if links like that are what's driving you to this juncture.

But... you can look at your space and your options. Maybe you can convert one bedroom, or a garage, to a studio and switch off who is in the primary home with the kids. People do this with separate apartments, this could theoretically work with separate spaces but to me the deciding factor would be how well you can co-parent.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:02 PM on September 20, 2014

At this point the environment at home has become so toxic that its negative effect on the girls has to be outweighing any positive effect of us staying together.

But is a relationship separation without a physical one even possible?

No. If you need to separate, that means you need to physically separate. Unless you live in a duplex or have a guest house, you cannot stay in the same home during a "separation" - the term is rendered meaningless. If you have already had as much counseling as you say, then divorce is the likely next step, at which point someone if not both of you will be moving out. If the current environment is toxic for your children then one of you really needs to go, sooner rather than later.
posted by gatorae at 1:05 PM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

To get divorced, you must be separated for 6 months minimum prior.

This is state dependent; here (NC) it's a year, in Washington state it's 90 days (and both of those are making the assumption that you're in the U.S.) If you think this is headed towards divorce, you'd be well served to spend an hour with a divorce lawyer in your jurisdiction asking what your options are and what your legal next steps would be. If you end up reconciling, great, but if not, you'd have valid legal information for where you live.
posted by joycehealy at 1:05 PM on September 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Read your me mail.
posted by k8t at 1:29 PM on September 20, 2014

The divorce is going to happen. You guys just haven't been able to bring yourselves to rip the Band-Aid off.

Get a good lawyer, and ask him about your next steps. You guys will need to live separately, but you shouldn't move out by default just because you're the dude.
posted by jingzuo at 1:33 PM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you absolutely can't afford to live apart, then you might as well stay officially together. You can't separate without separation.

I do know of one weird case: my ex's parents apparently got divorced when he was four(!), never told the kids and were still living together until my ex was 12, at which point she got fed up and dragged the kids off the mountain. I wouldn't necessarily recommend doing that, it's quite a mindfuck.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:36 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

It can be a tolerable situation. My wife and I have gone through this phase and back (and there and back, and...) I don't think it would count as a legal separation; you'd have to get real legal advice on that. But as a living condition, it can work.

You need to have the rules explicitly clear just like you would with a roommate situation. Chores? Share food or separate? If shared, who buys? etc. Once you have this agreement it is extremely important to honor and even exceed it in good faith. If you want this to work.

One rule I would absolutely not consider NOT having is the "not in the house" rule with seeing other people. That is to be done away from the house. Not even pick up or drop off at home. Not even when you know you have the house to yourself. It's off-limits space at all times. It seriously puts a cramp on your dating and will annoy dating partners, but that's the way it's got to be, trust me.
posted by ctmf at 1:37 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

As you can see from the wide array of answers, from a strictly legal standpoint, you (and she) need to engage a local attorney versed in family law before you "commit" to anything.

From the emotional standpoint, is this possible? Sure. It ain't easy, though, and will require you and her to draw out a very specific agreement on how it will work.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Etrigan at 1:54 PM on September 20, 2014

If this is a legal question ("Does this count as a separation in preparation for filing for divorce in my [unspecified] state?") then only an attorney can answer you. As above, each state's requirements are different as to length and circumstances of separation.

If this is a question of Do you thnk we can hack it?" then only you and your spouse can answer that. When my ex and I decided to separate, it was several months before we were able to stop living in the same house. Then again, it was so amicable that we didn't even use lawyers.

If you're asking purely about logistical suggestions for the financially strapped who want to live separately, I've read of couples with children who share one non-marital home, like a studio apartment. They essentially take turns hot-racking it. The husband will be with the kids at the house, say, Mon-Thu, while the wife is staying at the apartment. Fri-Sun, the wife has the kids at the house while the husband stays at the apartment.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 2:14 PM on September 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

At this point the environment at home has become so toxic that its negative effect on the girls has to be outweighing any positive effect of us staying together.

Why would you want to continue exposing your kids to a toxic relationship?

You need to physically separate.

But what if moving out isn't an option?

Well, it's going to have to be. See a lawyer and make it work.

Sorry if this sounds callous but your relationship is toxic and you're saying it's bad for your kids, then you need to do what's best for them and move out.
posted by kinetic at 2:32 PM on September 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

Do either of you have family or close friends nearby where you could stay from time to time, to give both of you a breather? If you're freelancers, then presumably one or both of you could be away for a little while.

You didn't mention this but some commenters have: Surely you're not thinking of dating again before you actually get divorced, are you? I think that would be more damaging and confusing (to you, your spouse, and your children) than one of you simply moving out. Divorce takes months, not years, to make final and the wait isn't too unbearable -- I've seen so much damage by people jumping in trying to fill the void and leaving their children very confused and angry (for years!) by not allowing the time to transition.

In the short term, can you arrange separate rooms for sleeping and working? I know the house is small, but if there's an alcove or something that might help.
posted by mochapickle at 2:58 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I often find that people impose limitations on themselves that don't really exist. You say that due to the both of you being freelancers that you can't maintain two residences.

There are ways around it:

1. One or both of you gets a regular 9-5 with benefits.

2. You both move out of the current residence and each get a separate residence. It may not be in the neighborhood you're in now, or it may not be a house, it might be an apartment. Someone might have to live with relatives and the other may have to couch surf. You have options.

3. If you're concerned about custody, YOU be the one to have primary care of the children and your wife can live with a friend and send you support for the children.

If you and your wife have decided to divorce, but you can be civil to each other, then you certainly can live in the same house as a matter of convenience while it gets sorted out, but there should be an end-game for each of you establishing separate households.

Your state laws may need to be consulted, there may be a requirement such that you must live separately from each other for a certain amount of time. Each state has it's own requirements.

If you are serious about divorcing, you each need to consult an attorney and start dissolving your marriage. You have children, that makes it complicated.

Divorce is hard, messy and expensive.

I know couples who do not live as man and wife, but who are still married and still live together in the same house. They respect each other, and they have good communication and they have agreed that although the love they had for each other has changed and they no longer want an intimate, married relationship, that they prefer not to divorce, mostly for reasons pertaining to money.

So, if you have enough rooms in your house for each of you to have a separate room, then this may work out well for you, but the arrangement will require as much communication and respect as you can muster.

I assume that if you each freelance, that you have an office separate from the bedroom. How about you move furniture around so that you can each have a bedroom/office. That might take the pressure off in a BIG way.

Good luck to you. This ain't easy if you're broke.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:12 PM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Please do not take legal advice from the internet.

Please consult a family lawyer in your jurisdiction as to the legal aspects of this situation.

Logistically, look into "nesting."
posted by freshwater at 4:46 PM on September 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

It frequently does NOT work, but I do know of a couple or two that it has. Chances are, though, if there is drama now, the drama will continue - and that's not good for the kids. For it to be a positive situation for the children, it has to be a positive situation anyways!
posted by stormyteal at 6:14 PM on September 20, 2014

I can't speak at all about the legal situation where you are (it's entirely possible here), but other than that, it is possible to be separated and living in the same premises. I won't say it's fun or easy, but it is definitely possible. When my ex and I separated, we continued to live in the same house for nearly a year, with me moving to the guest bedroom, until she was able to move out.

It more or less worked and, I believe, was better for the kids because they got to spend time with both of us whenever and, because we were no longer a couple, we didn't fight all the time. I wouldn't proposed it as a long-term solution, but it worked for that amount of time for our circumstances. Having a large enough house that we were rarely in the same room together helped, obviously. Even when negotiating a parenting plan that would remain in place after she moved out, we made arrangements for who was responsible for the kids when and just coincidentally (the kids weren't aware of the arrangement) looked after them during that time - because the times were agreed, there was no argument or uncertainty about when you were a parent and when you were 'off duty'.

I looked into and advocated for the 'nesting' concept, which I thought would be fantastic for the kids, but my ex was horrified by the thought and rejected it outright. Given she was living with someone else within a couple of months of moving out explained why, I guess. But, look into it because, in your employment/financial situation, it might be a more viable alternative than having to establish and maintain two completely separate households equipped for children, which is a horrible expense.
posted by dg at 12:48 AM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I will add that, like dg experienced, once my ex and I agreed to divorce and began the process of separating our lives, we did fight less. It was a hard situation to live with, in part because it dragged on for so long, but we did make each other less crazy once we were working on getting out of each other's lives.

Divorcing him was actually the best part of the entire relationship. As much of a pill as he had been to deal with while married to him, he was such a prince to be getting divorced from that I sometimes feared that would rekindle the marriage. He is the best ex-husband ever. It sort of makes the hell of the marriage worth having survived. Divorcing him was a wonderful, positive supportive experience where he gave me money and stayed out of my hair and was very understanding about how my health problems were making it hard for me to move on logistically. This was in stark contrast to how difficult he could be about every little thing when I was trying to make the marriage work.

I realize that is absolutely not the norm, I am just saying that if you are both wanting to do right by the kids and do right by each other, the divorce does not necessarily have to be the toxic situation the marriage currently is. My ex was so much easier to deal with once we had plans to stop having to put up with each other. This was after two decades of screaming fights.

(I am NOT trying to badmouth him here. I am sure I was no piece of cake to deal with either when we were married. But I am not qualified to speak on his behalf. I can only tell you how I experienced it.)
posted by Michele in California at 2:01 PM on September 21, 2014

If it doesn't work, you go to plan B. Right now, you're living together and the animosity is very uncomfortable for you and terrible for the kids. Make your best plan to stay in the same house while being civil to each other. Decide now how you'll know if it's "working." Give it a month. After that, re-evaluate.

If you think there's a chance it might work, test out that hypothesis. But don't let it go on and on in hopes that something will change.
posted by wryly at 4:28 PM on September 21, 2014

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