Being separated under one roof may be the latest divorce trend, in which couples agree to separate but continue living together in the main residence. Most of the time, this choice is made because maintaining two houses is expensive, and because the couple wants to co-parent the children with minimal disruption.
- Young children still living at home.
- None of the spouses want to move into apartments or separate houses and lose daily contact with their children – their family. They don’t want to feel alone or too separate.
- Each spouse will feel extreme resentment if they have to leave the house, pay child and spousal support, and see their children infrequently.
- Neither spouse has become seriously involved with another during the marriage.
- Because of their level of conflict and resentment during the marriage, each spouse has become more focused on the children than on one another.
- They take co-Parenting very seriously and want to be close to their children.
- They cannot afford to establish two independent households.
- Mostly they can talk to each other about the children without getting into old marital patterns of hostility and frustration.
According to the Department of Human Services, in March 2017 there were 38,692 Australians registered with Centrelink under an identifier code known as “Separated under one roof”. This code means exactly what is says: that you are a single person, living in the same residence as your former husband, wife or de facto partner.
This seems an incredible figure. What’s more, it’s on the rise, up from 35,103 recipients in 2016, and experts say it will continue growing.
“It’s not an uncommon thing at all,” agrees Elisabeth Shaw, the CEO of Relationships Australia NSW.
Anne Hollonds, director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, a federal government body, says “it’s been a longstanding phenomenon. When I was doing working as a marriage and family counsellor back in the ’80s it was happening, as it is now.”
There are, agree the experts, several major reasons couples stay in the same house once their relationship is over, either for months or, sometimes, years. The first is financial, especially when real estate is involved, as it is in so many divorce settlements. As house prices – particularly in cities – have increased in recent years and wages have remained stagnant, it’s become harder and harder to finance two homes with the proceeds of one.
The Pitfalls of Separation Under One Roof
Experts are united in their opinion that, in almost all cases, staying together physically after separating is a terrible idea. It’s financially problematic; it can create more rather than less conflict over children; and it tends to be extraordinarily difficult emotionally
“Of course, every situation is unique,” cautions Hollonds. “But there are some commonalities of experience. And probably the biggest is simply how hard it is. For any separating couple, the grief is so horrendous, and the avenues for conflict are so endless. Living together with any measure of success under those circumstances is … well, it’s a superhuman feat.”