Should I stay in the family home after we get divorced?
October 15, 2015 11:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm getting divorced. As a non-primary caregiver with joint legal custody, should I ask to stay in the marital house on the weekends, in order to be with the kids?

For the past 4 years, I've worked 2 hours away from the family, maintaining my own apartment close to my job. I see my kids (ages 12, 11, 9 and 7) and spouse on (most) weekends, and I recently started teleworking on Mondays. So, the current arrangement is that I'm around the kids only three days a week.

My spouse and I are divorcing. We are parting amicably and will both have lawyers advising us, but we're hoping that we'll be able to reach agreement over things without the need for heavy lawyer involvement. We aspire to co-parent our four children together.

Is it courting disaster for me to try to move into a spare bedroom in the family house, and to continue to be there on (most) weekends? I understand that we'd have to set new boundaries -- meals, laundry, going out, weekend events with the kids -- and that this arrangement might make it hard for my spouse and I to untangle things quickly.

But it seems like the best way for me to maintain quality time with the kids. The alternatives seem to be taking a big financial hit we cannot afford (there is absolutely no way I can afford renting a place near the kids), or subjecting the kids to a lot of time on the road (i.e., someone schlepping them to me on the weekend).

YANML and IANYC. I'm really looking for practical impressions and considerations. (I absolutely understand the implications for how this arrangement might impact the calculation of the mandatory "separation period".)
posted by QuantumMeruit to Human Relations (42 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've had friends who grew up in a similar situation: Mom had primary physical custody during the week at the house, dad lived in a small apartment. On the weekends, dad would stay in the house (IIRC, a separate bedroom) while mom went off and travelled/stayed with her boyfriend/etc.

Seemed to work well from what I witnessed, and avoided the common problem (at least in my family) where Dad wanted to spend time with the kids while they had their own plans for the weekend.
posted by Oktober at 11:06 AM on October 15, 2015

Google "bird's nest custody" for some discussion of variations on this idea.
posted by kmennie at 11:10 AM on October 15, 2015 [7 favorites]

I don't believe it's courting disaster, no. A few tips:

- Talk to your soon-to-be ex-spouse and see if they'd be willing to go with this plan.
- Make a plan about expenditures. You should pay rent, utilities, and split the cost of food. You want this to be fair to your ex and fair to you.
- Request that your ex-spouse not bring over dates, and you yourself agree not to do that as well.
- have a specific plan in place for the future. You're looking at 11ish years before your youngest is technically an adult. This is a little too long to ask both you and ex-spouse to never bring dates over for 11 years.
- Be prepared to deal with negativity toward you/your ex spouse when the children interact with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Alternative idea, depending on finances: Sell current home, buy new home close to work. Move ex-spouse and kids to new home.
posted by INFJ at 11:14 AM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best way to maintain quality time with the kids, or best way for you not to have to disrupt your life at all?

I mean, best practices for this as most people do it would probably either mean you renting a second place in your kids' town to conduct weekend visits, or you arranging to transport them to your place for weekend visits. Or, I suppose, you get both the primary family residence AND your work-adjacent pied-a-terre, and your ex finds a new place to live.

I have a friend who lives a similar distance from her ex and kid, and who has a very similar arrangement to what you already have. Her kid comes to her on weekends, and she and her ex split the transportation arrangements to make that happen. I think the idea is for her to eventually relocate to be closer/make things more convenient, but for the time being, yeah, you kind of have to suck it up and participate in the custody/visitation thing in good faith.

The arrangement you propose seems like it would suck royally for your ex, who now has to find somewhere to go three days a week. It also sounds like it would amount to you guys not actually splitting up but more like having separate bedrooms or something?
posted by Sara C. at 11:20 AM on October 15, 2015 [17 favorites]

I think that this could be really confusing for the kids. If you decide to do some variation of it, I'd meet with a family/child therapist to discuss strategies for explaining it to the kids and maintaining boundaries to help reduce confusion.

This could also put an extra burden on your spouse - would it be like you were a guest? Would they feel (real or societally-imposed) pressure to keep the house in guest-ready condition? Would you be contributing financially to the maintenance of the household (beyond child support)? Would you be doing household projects/chores while you were staying there? Will you clean up, not only after yourself, but after the kids and in the general space (dusting, vacuuming, etc)? Would your spouse have to be there or could they feel free to go on trips or outings? Would they want to do that? Keep in mind that you have 4-5 days per week by yourself, as an adult, to do adult things (or to do nothing at all), in your personal adult space, while your spouse has no comparable alone time in this scenario.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:33 AM on October 15, 2015 [18 favorites]

I don't think it's courting disaster but although it's currently the "family" home, once you split it's your ex's home, and the kids' home, but not the "family" home. And if your visitation* would be at your ex's home, s/he would need to have some hardcore boundaries around when you're there** and what the rules are. Which s/he would be the one to set, and change, as s/he sees fit. Because it's his/her home.

*Yes it's a loaded term but if your ex is primary caregiver and you see the kids on (most) weekends then that's what it is.
**"(Most) weekends" sounds like you have some flexibility there. Which you might have to give up in order to have consistency for your kids and for your ex, so s/he can develop a life of his/her own.

posted by headnsouth at 11:38 AM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think this is a short term fix but likely a sure fire method for loads of conflict and resentment long term. If I were you, I would propose it for a limited time only, as a transitory step. At the end of the period discuss with your ex spouse whether to continue.
posted by zia at 11:44 AM on October 15, 2015 [7 favorites]

It would kind of suck for your ex... you get your own private space but s/he doesn't. Maybe that's a hit s/he's willing to take if you decide together that it's what's best for the kids and your still-entangled finances, but it's not a very cool situation for your ex.
posted by mskyle at 11:45 AM on October 15, 2015 [14 favorites]

By the way, I would add that I think this is overall a bad idea.
posted by zia at 11:46 AM on October 15, 2015

This is definitely worth a try - it's something that other families have had success with, and something that may work well for yours. However, don't feel that you have to commit yourselves to making this work. If writing up this plan is part of the divorce agreement, be sure to also agree on a backup plan.

The purpose here is for your kids to have a good relationship with both their parents - time spent, emotional closeness, positive experiences... This living arrangement is great because it maximizes time spent with both parents, minimizes their time on the road, and minimizes their having to give up plans (with school, friends, etc) to travel from one parent to the other. BUT, if it starts to also minimize parental comfort in the house (either of you), cause even more arguments between the two of you, drive up costs beyond what's reasonable (eg her hotel costs if she's not supposed to be home) or otherwise cause problems, you need to be willing to see that the "it will help the children" argument has lost ground, and give it up, no mater how convenient it is to you personally.
posted by aimedwander at 11:48 AM on October 15, 2015

Why are you divorcing? That's going to be a huge factor in whether or not you can pull it off. I mean, there's an amicable divorce and then there's being able to live in the same house for 40% of every week for another decade.

Also, where are you going to be when you're on vacation from that job? What if you're home sick, or get laid off? Too much proximity can become toxic very quickly in this kind of scenario.

(As a child of divorce, I would have loved to not be the one shuttling back and forth all the time. However, my parents couldn't really cope with being in the same time zone, so your strategy sounds extremely romantic and impractical to me.)
posted by SMPA at 11:51 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and do you expect to find a new partner in the indefinite future? Because I think a lot of people would find this really weird, from a dating standpoint.
posted by SMPA at 11:52 AM on October 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have the same setup as October, and it works pretty well.

I live in the Bay Area with my girlfriend, and my daughter and ex-wife live in Los Angeles. Every two weeks I come down and stay at their apartment with my daughter, and her mother goes and stays with her boyfriend. The kid gets to stay in her own house.

The two things make this work so well are 1) My ex-wife has a new SO to be with every other weekend and 2) my ex and I friends, but we know deep in our hearts we are better friends than married partners.

#1 is important because she'll have somewhere to go when you are at the house. Being a divorced parent is hard enough without having "time off". If you have 24 "kid free days" a month, yet your ex is staying in the same house as the kids 7 days a week, resentment will build up reeeeaaal quick.

#2 helps because there was no weirdness about "what if things were better this time". Living in the same house (even at different times) is a really easy way to remember all the good times, yet forget all the "bad" stuff that led to the divorce in the first place. If either party is going to "fall back in love", I recommend a separate living situation until the marriage is completely gone from your minds.
posted by sideshow at 11:53 AM on October 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Especially given the ages of the kids, I think trying to get them to come to you every weekend is unrealistic -- they will have lots of events, especially during the teenage years, that make being 2 hours away from home every weekend unrealistic.

The solution you propose sounds tricky, especially as time passes. What happens if your ex-wife remarries -- will you still be staying in her house every weekend with her new husband? Or what if you remarry -- will your new wife be okay with you being 2 hours away almost every weekend? The time until all the kids are 18 is a long haul to make that work over. I could see this work for a transition period if you have a clear plan in place for how it's going to change .... for example, if you are planning to change the job situation/location soon or switch to all tele-work so that you could move closer to the kids, or if you are planning to sell the house to purchase/rent two less expensive residences in the area, or whatever.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:14 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

It seems like moving somewhere more equidistant from the family house and your work would be the ideal solution. Like 45 minutes one way, 75 minutes the other way.

You living in your ex-wife's space 3 days a week seems untenable.
posted by French Fry at 12:23 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

ASK YOUR LAWYER. That's going to depend on Virginia's separation/divorce laws. A friend of mine who is getting divorced in Virginia informs me that that is a six month legal separation before filing.

I'm not sure if staying in the house like that will reset the clock on your separation. My attorney tells me it will, but then, I live in Maryland and I'm looking at a full year of separation (my lawyer isn't sure if the new law reducing that period to six months applies to separations started prior to October 1st, which is my situation).
posted by tckma at 1:30 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

the way i've seen this work is if you guys have 2 family homes where the kids stay put and hte parents switch houses based on who has custody on that day. that doesn't seem like it will work in your situation because of the distance. i don't think this sounds like what is best for your kids or your ex, but what disrupts your life the least.
posted by nadawi at 1:47 PM on October 15, 2015

May I suggest the Co Parenting Handbook? It is really helpful for overall co-parenting but specifically discusses this issue.
You may also want to look into getting a parenting plan mediator to help you all work out this and other issues.
posted by k8t at 1:52 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Most states you have to live apart. Talk to the lawyer you are paying to do this. IAAL, IANYL.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:55 PM on October 15, 2015

Perhaps you could do this 2 weekends a month, and the other 2 they "schlep" to you. (Or some other ratio.) You need to give your ex weekends alone in their house, without you or the kids.
posted by amaire at 1:56 PM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you have any friends in the place where your ex and kids live who would let you rent out a guest bedroom 12 nights a month for pretty cheap? That sounds like a better idea, too.
posted by amaire at 1:58 PM on October 15, 2015

If you do bring this plan to your ex, it does not sound at all reasonable for you to suggest they vacate their home for three days a week nor is it your place to request they never bring dates home.

After all, that 'primary residence' is now solely their home, your own current home is two hours' drive-time away; if they were to agree to this it would be a case of you moving into their home for three days each week, not you moving into your shared home: 'your shared home' no longer exists. So while it's reasonable that they can make rules about when you are in their home or who you have in their house, insisting they get out while you're there and/or dictating who they can have as a guest would start the discussion off on the wrong foot.
posted by easily confused at 2:06 PM on October 15, 2015 [7 favorites]

A good friend of mine endured this with her ex-husband in a house with a mother-in-law apartment - and I do mean endured. She had no privacy, he cooked meals with the kids in her part of the house with her food when she was away in direct violation to their agreed-upon rules, and when she wasn't home he went through her drawers. It was miserable until she finally sold the home and ended it. I think the arrangement is fraught with potential negatives.
posted by summerstorm at 2:16 PM on October 15, 2015

I have to reiterate what others have said- where do you expect your ex to go on the weekends? Stay in the house (this can go badly) or find somewhere else (this can wear thin pretty quickly)? Unless ex has somewhere to go where they actually want to be, you're basically disrupting their life every weekend. And even if this gives them kid-free time, it means they're stuck with the weekday grind while you get the "fun" time with the kids. Your ex will probably want to enjoy weekend time with the kids, too, without being stuck with someone they no longer want to be with.

I have to agree that this seems designed for your benefit, but will inconvenience your ex and quite possibly result in so much resentment it destroys the good will you have now.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 2:25 PM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I had a friend growing up whose parents divorced -- and gave her the house. In other words, they would just split the time they spent there, with one parent there X days and the other Y days. Her life didn't really change that much, and the parents just kept the same bedroom, just alternating when they used it. (I have no idea where they went on the other days -- obviously your ex-wife would have to have an affordable, pleasant alternative; dare I say she might actually like the peace?) Anyway, the entire arrangement seemed eminently adult and sensible, and it's what I would do if I were in the same situation. So, no, not your situation exactly, but I imagine it's close enough to work!
posted by caoimhe at 2:41 PM on October 15, 2015

Have the kids make the trip to your apartment one weekend a month.

One or two other weekends a month, rent a motel room in your kids' town for Friday and Saturday night.

One weekend don't see them.

This is probably the least emotionally stressful and confusing for everyone. If you can find a cheap enough motel room, it should be financially feasible as well.
posted by quincunx at 3:34 PM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Although from another perspective, having the FOUR kids hang out with you in a tiny apartment also sounds like it would suck. Moreover, assuming your kids have friends and sports and other activities, I also imagine that they need to be transported to said activities on the weekends.
Here are the options, as I see it:
- You rent 2 places - one in your work city, one in kids' city; and maybe you get a roommate in work city to defer costs. You spends weekends in kids' city.
- You get a place halfway between work city and kids' city. That would still suck for the kids, but might work.

The people I know that do the "kids stay in the home, parents rotate out" aren't in your situation where Mom is there all week and Dad is there on the weekends - instead they literally rotate out weekly. And then Mom and Dad each have a separate apartment. And it sucks. Logistically it sucks - you gotta move your clothes in and out; and who manages what in the "kids' house" is confusing. And this makes dating suck for all involved too.

I don't know the backstory of why you're living 2 hours away from FOUR kids, but holy hell that sounds like a recipe for disaster and there must be a really serious reason why you didn't find a job in kids' town or why they all didn't move to be closer to your job.

Honestly, I think that you all need to go see a parenting plan specialist and talk through your options.
posted by k8t at 3:49 PM on October 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

I have two friends who did the "birds nest custody" thing.

One couple sold the family home and bought a duplex in the same town. This worked well, as each family owned one "side" of the house and the financial arrangements were clear. The move was difficult for the kids but they grew to love the freedom to see both of their parents whenever they chose.

The other couple already owned a house with an in-law apartment, and the husband just moved to the inlaw. This was a mess, largely because of the ongoing frustrations over the financial reality of the father "renting" from the mom.

So, while some version of home-sharing can work, my experience would say do it in a way that makes each of you responsible for your own "half" (ie: duplex, or neighboring condos, or houses across the street or something). So, yeah, courting disaster. Its a good impulse, but find another way to follow it.
posted by anastasiav at 3:49 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

You can try it until it doesn't work and then you can try something else.

That is the best advice our mediator gave us--it's okay to try stuff and have it not work and then change it.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:01 PM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, it's reasonable to ask or suggest whatever the hell you want to (absent being abusive). People like to get all on one side or the other and say one thing or the other is or isn't reasonable to ask. You know, maybe she'd like to have you in the house on the weekend because it's worth it to her. Just ask, be open and flexible, and work through problems as they come.

Dealing with split custody is always always always going to be hard in SOME way.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:04 PM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think enough people have pointed out negatives that I'd like to say that I do see an upside in being around your kids more. My sibling and I were the ages of your two youngest children when our parents divorced. My dad moved into a singles apartment that didn't work very well for hanging out at. It pretty much sucked for kids. Then he moved a lot further away. At that point I probably saw him once every three months. Our relationship shifted a lot, and even dwindled, because we didn't really spent quality time or quantity time together. I know I was sad about this and I like to think he was, too.

IF your wife is unusually even keeled (like my husband) and IF you are really good at fading into the wallpaper, then maybe you can make this work for several months while hunting around for a better solution. But you would really need to not tell her how to behave. Living with your ex-husband must be a lot like living with your mother-in-law. You would need to understand that it's a "her house, her rules" situation and be a really obliging guest. That's a pretty hard transformation.

I encourage you to do some brainstorming about what everybody wants. When I was a kid, I really liked going places with my dad one on one, but my mom really wanted both kids gone so she could have a better break. Think about the ways you like to spend time with your kids and which types of events can be ported to the town you live in and which can't.

Is there anybody in your kids town that would let you spend some nights on their couch?
posted by puddledork at 4:44 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Unless you are made of money, this may be the only practicable plan. It sounds like you guys just don't have the money to make two homes for four kids. Wishing will probably not change that.

It will suck because your ex is basically never without the kids (which is like, the only perk of being divorced if you are the custodial parent.) Is there anyway you can convert a garage or park an RV or anything that will let you bird's nest your custodial arrangement?
posted by DarlingBri at 5:04 PM on October 15, 2015

I don't see anywhere that you are expecting your (ex)spouse to not be home on the weekends. Is that just something someone here assumed? Because if you're all going to be sleeping under the same roof, I think that's bound to cause friction. I don't know anyone who's been happy in this arrangement. People need their own space after a divorce. Time to heal, time to figure out who they are as a separate person. If the other partner is still in their space for days on end every week, that doesn't give them what they need.

And I can't help but think that it would be confusing for the kids. Mom/Dad is here sometimes, then sometimes not. Dad/Mom has a new partner, sometimes they're around, sometimes not. I think you need to move closer. Can your spouse sell the family home, get a smaller place halfway between your job and his/hers? And can you do the same? Everyone lives in new suburb, kids don't have to go as far to get to either parent, and co-parenting becomes much more practical.
posted by clone boulevard at 5:05 PM on October 15, 2015

FWIW I am one of four kids, and when my mom moved out, she moved into a regular boring apartment. Did it kind of suck sharing a two bedroom apartment with five people? Yes. But, you know, that's life. It was definitely not worse than my parents trying some weird "have our divorce and eat it, too" house sharing plan.

Being a child of divorce sucks any way you slice it. Either you never see your dad again or are constantly in flux forgetting your math workbook at the other parent's place. You spend too much time driving between houses, you share a room with your mom, your parents sell the house you grew up in, you have to deal with annoying prospective step-people, Christmas is a gigantic annual argument, etc etc etc.

Watching your parents put themselves first and pretend it's all for you is worse than any of the above.
posted by Sara C. at 5:28 PM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

When you get divorced, nothing is forever! :) Which I mean to say, that this plan might work for right now, and then it might not. If you and your ex can get along, I could see this being a good idea initially. The key is to be flexible. My ex and I have had a number of configurations. When we first split up, he would come and spend all day Saturday and Sunday at my house while I worked both of those days- he would go back to his place at night. Then he got a bigger place, and he started taking our kids every other weekend from Friday night through Monday morning- droping them off at school. Then he moved about an hour away, so he started droping them off on Sunday night. Then we hit the high school years, and one of our kids had a terrible time in the local school, so they moved in with my ex, and we went to each having a kid, and each doing every other weekend with both kids. Now, my older kid has a weekend job close to my house, and I have a boyfriend who lives in another state, so we have started having my ex do his weekends at my house so my older child can work their weekend job. As the kids got older and their social lives took over (and they were more independent) the visitation schedule has become much more fluid and flexible and not as important to me as when they were young and I needed a break after parenting full-time all week.
posted by momochan at 5:59 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

You say you can't afford an apartment near your work and an apartment near your kids. Can your spouse afford an apartment and a single family home? Is s/he that much wealthier than you? Or is s/he staying in your apartment on the weekends? Or are you having essentially the exact same arrangement you have now-- you living in your current apartment most of the week, and at "home" the other days? Because that sounds less like you're getting a divorce and more like you're, what, shifting to an open marriage? Extricating your finances? What, exactly would change in this new arrangement, if your living situation will not? (Or will no longer being married make it magically easier for you to live in the same household arrangement as you do now?)
posted by instamatic at 7:04 PM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't know what the solution is, but I don't think that "subjecting the kids to time on the road" is the issue, especially not in the iPad/iPhone era. They might whine about it, but it's not going to hurt them any. The thing I'd be worried about as far as the kids go is separating them from their friends every weekend. The older ones especially are getting to that age where socializing outside of school is a big priority. How well is it going to go over if they have to tell their friends "Sorry I can't go to a movie with you this weekend. Or next weekend. Or the weekend after that. Because I go to my parent's place 2 hours away EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND." Seems like a recipe for them to majorly resent you, so whatever solution you come up with, I'd encourage it to be one where they get to spend at least an occasional weekend in their home town.
posted by storminator7 at 7:22 PM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I know of at least a couple of situations in which the family home "belongs" to the kids, and the parents swapped in and out - one of the families had half-week situations like you describe, the other had on and off weeks. In both cases, the parents had an alternative place to go during their off weeks.

When the parents are cooperative, determined to focus on their kids' needs, and not selfishly demanding that their new relationships take priority, it can be an excellent way to handle raising the kids so that the kids do well. But it does demand some sacrifices of the parents. (And really, that's as it should be. Kids come first.)
posted by stormyteal at 9:51 PM on October 15, 2015

I see the potential for problems when your ex doesn't want to have to abandon her house for an entire weekend at some point or gets generally tired of the arrangement, and then you resent it as taking away your time with the kids. I feel like the typical arrangement is the kids would go stay with you. So, it would make more sense to try to move closer to be able to see them and put the commute onus on you, instead of them. I'm glad you want to continue to be in the kid's lives, but living there could be weird for them, especially if the plan is for your ex to stay in the house with you.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:30 AM on October 16, 2015

I think this can work for a while, as a transition step, but the better long-term solution is for you to live closer to your children. Is there any way you can find a job in their city? Could you live somewhere in between where they live and where you work?
posted by Area Man at 6:08 AM on October 16, 2015

One thing to consider is that you want to make sure that their mother gets some weekend time with the kids when she can be the "fun" parent. At the same time,while the temptation is want to take advantage of your limited time with the kids to connect and do things with them, you need take seriously parental responsibility to see that the kids get any needed homework and chores done on the weekend. (Based not on anything you said but a common complaint I hear from divorced women)
posted by metahawk at 6:11 PM on October 16, 2015

This sort of thing really should only be viewed as a short term, transitory solution. Initially, you will need to set strong boundaries with your STBX as well as the expectations with respect to your presence the home. And while YOU say everything is amicable, there really is no telling what your STBX thinks or is telling you.

Eventually, one or both of you will have a significant other you want to bring around (if you don't already). You both may or may not be ready to handle that.

The longer this sort of situation goes on, the more confused the kids get about the relationship between you and your STBX. Use this time to work towards getting and finding your own place.
posted by PsuDab93 at 7:47 AM on October 21, 2015

« Older Keep calm and carry on ... with fine motor skills   |   How hard is HVAC ductwork for the uninitiated? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.