Going through the process of a divorce can be difficult on all levels – emotionally, spiritually, and financially. With housing prices rising and the cost of living exorbitant, moving out of the family home is not always an option even when two people decide to separate.
Now, with Shelter in Place, more people are finding themselves living together during their divorce proceedings because they do not have the ability to maintain two separate households. Others choose to remain in the same household for other reasons, like keeping the family unit together or because they do not want to leave their home.
Whatever the reason, here are three tips to help you get through your divorce while living under the same roof and the legal impact it may have on your divorce:
When you continue to live together but have decided to no longer be together, the most important thing to establish is ground rules. In order to successfully cohabitate, you must realize that part of emotionally separating means physically separating as well. Thus, designating which rooms in your house will be your own separate corridors and move your personal belongings to that separate space.
This may be a hard conversation to have, but it is necessary. It will feel unusual to have areas in your house that are no longer “yours,” but it is important to establish and respect these boundaries to create stability, structure, and privacy in your home. This will also help alleviate any possible conflict that may arise by providing each spouse a separate place to resort and their own personal space.
Going through a divorce requires mental and emotional acceptance to normalize this new separate lifestyle. Get in the mindset that you are living with a roommate and not a partner. Treating each other with mutual respect is the key to living amicably with one another. If you are unable to communicate with one another without arguing, try sending e-mails or text messages to one another and limiting communications to only what is necessary. Do not share a bedroom, but make sure you are sharing common spaces, like the kitchen and living room respectfully.
On the other hand, living in the same household can also cause feelings of temptation. However, think carefully about what you’re feeling and your actions. While we encourage reconciliation, you must also keep in mind the legal impact your behavior can have on your dissolution proceedings.
One of the key factors in your case is your “date of separation.” The date of separation is important in determining separate and community property. California Family Code section 70 defines the date of separation as the date of the “complete and final break in the marital relationship.” If the date of separation is contested, the court will look to whether one spouse has expressed to the other spouse the intent to end the marriage. Importantly, the court will look to whether the conduct of the spouse is consistent with the intent to end the marriage.
To determine whether conduct is “consistent,” the court will consider all evidence such as: whether spouses continue to live under the same roof, whether they hold themselves out as being married or separated, continuing to join finances, and engaging in sexual intercourse with one another. Thus, when you’re living in the same household, maintaining separate spaces, living separately, buying separate groceries, and sleeping in separate corridors is important to establish a clear date of separation.
Even though you have separated from your spouse and are going through dissolution proceedings, you still have financial responsibilities to your community. This means that even after separation, both spouses are liable for the community debt and thereby are responsible for ensuring the household bills are paid. It is important to have a discussion with one another as to how these bills will be paid. If one spouse is delinquent in making these payments, this will be financially detrimental to both spouses and have an impact on your credit scores.
If you both own a home together that was purchased during the marriage and if one spouse pays the entirety of the mortgage, that spouse is entitled to reimbursement for half of those payments. Keep in mind that upon separation, any property acquired after is considered your own separate property, including income.
Thus, any payments made toward community property with separate property funds are subject to reimbursement or credits – which may have an overall impact on your property division. See In re Marriage of Epstein (1979) 24 Cal.3d 76, 84-85, which holds as a general rule that one spouse is entitled to reimbursement through credits for separate property contributions made on community obligations.
Knowing all of this may lead to a discussion about what you and your spouse ultimately want to do about the house. Is one spouse going to buy-out the other spouse for the house? Does that spouse qualify for refinancing? Are you planning on selling the house and dividing the profits? If so, when? Having these conversations may be necessary to figure out how you want to split your finances during this time.
Living under the same roof can be beneficial for those spouses who share children together. However, it could create additional issues if one spouse wants to spend time with the children but not with the other spouse. Establishing a parenting schedule can alleviate any possible conflicts in the house and avoid placing your children at the center of your problems.
It may feel unusual at first to have to establish “days” or “times” when you care for your children even though you’re living in the same household but remember that this structure is important. This will make an easier transition for your children too, as they begin to familiarize themselves with having a bond with each parent separately and will create stability during this disorienting time.
Respect one another’s parenting time with the children. If it is not your day, find time to leave the house and go on errands or try to stay in your own space so the other spouse can spend uninterrupted time with the children, and the other spouse should try to do the same. This will also set a good example for your children when both parents are showing respect and co-parenting skills with one another.
You may want to speak with your children and explain the situation to them as gently as possible. This may help prevent any hurt feelings when one parent is not spending time with them during the other parent’s parenting time. This can be a very confusing time for children and it is important you communicate with them to avoid adding any additional issues.
Communication is key here. While communicating with one another is best as you know your family best and what schedule works, coming up with an informal agreement may also be your only avenue to keeping peace and stability in the home. Creating a schedule now can help maintain a status quo that you can rely on when you or your spouse move to separate living spaces.
Consulting with a lawyer can help prevent any possible legal repercussions you may face during your dissolution proceedings. Call Modern Family Law for a free initial consultation.
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