Given the tough economy, many husbands and wives are financially constrained to live together under the same roof, often until their house is sold, even though they would love to live separately during the divorce process. As mediators, we work with spouses to make sure that this transition period is as tolerable as possible.
You first need to figure out what the chief source or sources of conflict are between you and your spouse. If it’s not having enough time for yourself, one way to have more time is to work out an “interim” parenting plan. The goal here is to have established times either during the week and/or on weekends when one parent will be totally responsible for the children. So, for example, if one spouse needs alone time at home, the other spouse will take the children out of the house for a set period of time. If it’s the other way around, the spouse responsible for the children will watch them at home and the other spouse is free to carry out their activities.
We recommend that both spouses sit down together or e-mail each other their schedules and their children’s schedules for the upcoming month in order to work out who will have the children on which day. Once you both agree on the schedule, you’ll be able to follow it and give each other needed breaks. The children will also benefit as they will get used to the idea that they will be doing something with each parent separately in the future. And if this schedule reduces their parents’ stress, it will give the children a calmer home life.
Another typical stressor is handling the bills. In mediation, we have each of you do a budget. You would be amazed at what you spend each month on things you forgot about. Clearly, while you’re living together, the essential bills need to be paid. They include the mortgage, utilities, cell phones, food, car payments and the children’s extracurricular activities and the like. One spouse needs to line out the bills for a month, so that each of you knows what is going out and for what. Then you both need to agree who pays what or what percentage of each bill you will pay. You’ll also have to decide what constitutes discretionary expenses, such as eating out, going to the movies, gym memberships, etc. One option is to agree that each of you will be responsible for your own discretionary expenses and have those expenses paid out of a separate account. This is probably the time when you want to separate your credit cards, so that each of you will pay for your own discretionary expenses. You will probably want to keep one joint account and one joint credit card for those expenses that you have agreed are necessary to keep the household going.
Carrying on your own independent lives when you are living together is another challenge. If you both understand that at some point you may want to date other people, how can this be done when you’re in the same home? First, the children must be considered. In most agreements, the parties decide when it would be appropriate to introduce a significant other. For most parties, this will not only depend upon the age of the children, but also the seriousness of the relationship. It may be better for everyone to be discreet and wait until six months or a year after you are living separately to introduce the significant other to the children.
As divorce mediators, we will work with you on the parenting schedule, finances and privacy issues to help you keep arguments to a minimum. Our divorce mediators include a social worker who has a lot of experience in working with families in transition. However, it may also be a good idea for you to go to a counselor together or individual therapist to work on communicating in such a way as to minimize pushing each other’s buttons and to respect each other’s privacy until the time comes when you are physically separated and can lead your own independent lives.