One of the biggest tasks in divorce is deciding how, when and where to establish separate residences. Many factors are at play: whether one person will remain in the home or whether it will be sold (or vacated if it is a rental); if there are children what the access schedule will be; the cost of two residences; and timing the separation in a way that works for all family members.
In litigated divorces where there is a custody dispute, parents are often advised not to leave the residence, for fear that a precedent will be established wherein the parent living with the children is the primary physical custodian. Some worry that their children will perceive them as at fault or abandoning them. In high conflict situations, people can become entrenched in the idea that they are “entitled” to live in the house and will not budge until they absolutely have to, the thought being that the other person should leave, instead of them. On top of that, if a house has to be sold people can remain stuck in it for a prolonged period of time.
When a family stays in the same house and everyone knows that a divorce is going to happen, each person suffers. Parents may clash overtly, become distant from each another or “fake it” in front of their children. One parent may worry that the other is looking through their personal items and resort to locking their bedroom door to keep the other one out. The “rules” of normal life are called into question: Are there still family dinners? Do parents take turns tucking children into bed each night or does one do it and then the other follows? Who establishes guidelines for homework, bedtime or the use of electronics? While some of these questions are relevant after parents separate, some are more easily resolved because each parent establishes the rules in their respective households, and they no longer have day-to-day interactions within the same space. While it helps if parents maintain consistency, children usually adapt to the way mom or dad does things.
One of the advantages that collaborative divorce offers families is the opportunity to establish separate residences when the time is right for all family members. With the assistance of the collaborative team, parents can come up with creative solutions and talk openly about the best living arrangements, given their finances and the children’s needs. Consultation with a divorce family specialist as to timing and what to say to the children is available. Children can be brought in to voice their concerns and desires. Another benefit of physical separation is that children’s fantasies of reconciliation are more easily dispelled. Children get accustomed to transitioning between residences, rather than living with uncertainty about what it will be like when they have two homes. Everyone in the family begins a new phase of life in which they can live more peacefully and happily.