The situation you find yourself in — living together during your separation — is a common one in this economic climate. The economic realities that exist, especially in the real-estate arena, have forced married couples who would otherwise live separate and apart to continue to reside together.
There are several ways in which you can improve your situation. First of all, create rules and boundaries. Perhaps a task list can be agreed upon. Tasks such as taking out the garbage, cleaning the bathroom, and washing the floor can be specifically addressed and assigned. Although money is tight, an investment in a housekeeper for one day per week would be worthwhile. This would alleviate the issue of “who’s doing what” and provide you with both a clean and satisfactory living situation. Another way to improve your living situation during your separation would be to schedule time both in and out of the house. If there are no children, you can assign the house to each other on any particular weekend. For example, the house is yours on one weekend and his on another. On your alternate weekends, you can stay with a friend or family member. This will provide you with a little bit of breathing space during the period of separation.
You need to set other boundaries as well. For example, neither of you should enter the bedroom where the other is staying. Maybe you should consider installing locks on your respective bedroom doors or living space. This will give you a sense of privacy. An agreement must be reached as to the issue of “company”, whether it is romantic company or friends and family. During the period of separation while residing together, friends and family should be limited to visiting you at the house only on your assigned weekends. Dating should not take place in the house. It simply creates too many issues.
Of course, if there are children involved, this presents a different set of issues. However, I believe an in-house schedule is critically necessary while you are living together during the separation period. For example, assign the morning and evening routines and the weekends to a particular parent on any given day. You can set it up that one parent does homework and bedtime chores with the children on fixed nights, such as Mondays , Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and the other parent on Thursdays and Fridays. Even the issue as to who gets up with the children to get them off to school should be agreed upon, so that there is no confusion and confrontation in the house.
As many boundaries and rules that you can set up and agree upon would be helpful. The reality is that you both have the same goal — minimizing your financial exposure and maximizing the value of your property during this period. Knowing that you will both benefit from this arrangement during your separation, and that it will protect you economically, should remain your focus. And most importantly, try to leave the marriage on a note of respect for each other.
Patricia M. Barbarito is a partner in the law firm of Einhorn, Harris, Ascher, Barbarito & Frost, P.C., located in Morris County, NJ. She is a former chair of the Family Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association, a member of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and a frequent lecturer on divorce. She can be reached at (973) 627-7300. View her firm’s Divorce Magazine profile.