The Joy of Separation!
Most of us have a very theatrical vision of what a separation after a relationship breakdown must look like. There’s the quick transition to a new (and improved) home, the smokin’ hot physical transformation and piles upon piles of his trousers – the crotch cut out of each pair – lying in your wake.
The reality of a separation might be a little, well… different, but it’s certainly no less dramatic with an increasing number of couples continuing to live under the same roof after the relationship breaks down. “I wouldn’t say it’s common, but it’s certainly not unusual, says lawyer Andy Hogan, who explains that the inability to financially support two households is often the primary cause of such an agreement. “Rents are high, house prices higher and if you don’t have family support close by to lend a hand or provide a roof, it can be tough to go out on your own.”
While Hogan doesn’t recommend such an agreement in cases where there’s a lot of hurt and animosity, or cases where domestic violence – physical or otherwise – is present, she says it can work for some couples. “As I tell my clients, it’s really a question of asking yourself whether your mental health will be affected by continuing to live together,” she says.
Think it’s something you could attempt? Here’s what you need to know.
The pros and cons of being separated under one roof
Should the situation be tenable, there are several advantages to staying under the one roof. The major plus here is that it gives both parties time to sort their finances adequately so they’re not hitting the ground running.
“It minimises risk of defaulting on loans as parties are able to consolidate their expenses in the interim,” explains Hogan. The other is that it gives couples with kids a chance to continue co-parenting their children under the one roof and working together to help little ones deal with the breakup as a family unit.
“This only works if the couple have parted amicably” warns Hogan. “Most parents do their best to shield their children from the ugly side of a breakup, but kids are more perceptive than we realise so you do need to ask yourself whether continuing to live together might negatively impact the children.”
The main disadvantage (besides the possibility of your children living in a hostile environment)? A lot of hurt and anger can continue to bubble to the surface as you continue to see one another, a factor which can prevent you from healing or moving on.
“I’ve seen clients who take turns staying at friends’ places, and division of houses, but regardless of the size of space you have, no one knows how to push your buttons quite like your partner or recent ex-partner so tensions can mount quickly.”
This isn’t to say it can’t work, but it’s a situation where no one shape fits all.
Making it work
Before you come to any agreement, it’s a good idea for both parties to seek support from a counsellor during the initial stages of a separation, as well as advice from a family lawyer.
“Generalised advice can point you in the right direction, but speaking to a family law professional about your own personal circumstances can make a huge difference to what happens next.” For example, if you have children together, a lawyer or experienced legal drafter can help you get a parenting plan in place, and give you guidance on financials such as ensuring your mortgage redraw facilities requires joint signatures, changing beneficiaries, pins and passwords, and even how to stash sentimental items away from the house.
If you’re receiving, or plan to receive, any government payments, you will need to have a Separated Under One Roof assessment with the Department of Human Services.
[Here’s the form they will get you to fill in.]
Each person will need to explain why they need to continue living under the same roof, and provide evidence of a relationship breakdown. Third party statements will usually be sought and your financial, super and healthcare institutions may be contacted.
It’s best to speak with Human Services to get advice on your particular situation but don’t forget it’s essential to contact them immediately you start any deal that would be interpreted as separated but living under the same roof. “If you end up reconciling yet continue to collect benefits, you’ll end up with a nasty debt,” warns Hogan. “And this can quickly turn what should be a happy time in your lives, to a potentially nasty one.”.
And of course when you do end up filing for divorce after your separation period there will be an additional form to fill and an affidavit to confirm you were separated but living under one roof.
And don’t forget to check out the Eagle’s guide on how to separate HERE.
And what happens to the kids when you separate HERE.