Friday, December 5, 2008

House Rules for House Sharing During Divorce

NEWS FLASH!!! More couples continue to live together as they go through a divorce. What had already seemed like a more common situation has been happening even more often lately as the U.S. economy is experiencing a broad downturn. I had previously noticed a trend in Collaborative cases, and sometimes even in litigation, but the slump in the housing market has made the situation more of a necessity for many families who can't afford two house payments. The earlier experiences I had noticed seemed to relate more to families who still got along well and who were very concerned with sharing time with the children and minimizing the stress of splitting the household. Now, we are adding families who don't get along as well who stay together out of economic necessity.

In some of the still-together families, problems can arise as the adults are entering the new world of separation and single adulthood. To help all the house-sharing families, I offer the following "House Rules" topics that usually need to be addressed to avoid or minimize conflict within the household.
  • Cooking and Meals. Do the adults share the food, the cost of purchasing food and the food preparation, or do they each do their own thing? Do they eat together? Does one eat in the kitchen and the other in the dining room? Who feeds the kids?
  • Cleaning. Who cleans up the kitchen? Do they clean up their own mess? Who cleans which rooms in the house? Who cleans up for the kids or gets the kids to do their share of the cleaning? Who buys the cleaning supplies?
  • Laundry. Who's in charge? Does each adult do their own laundry? What about the kids' laundry? Does there need to be a schedule for use of the machines? Who buys the cleaning supplies?
  • Use of Space. Do both parties get equal rights to the use of the whole house or are the rooms and areas allocated in some way? Who's in charge of the kids' rooms and stuff?
  • Sleeping Arrangements. Does the couple still share a bed or bedroom? Where does everyone sleep?
  • The Yard. Who maintains the yard, including mowing and watering? Who gets to use the yard and when?
  • Bills. Who pays the mortgage and utilities? Will there be any reimbursement?
  • TVs. Will everyone have their own TV or do they have to share?
  • Computer Use. Will everyone have their own, or do they share? If they share, there may have to be agreements about when each can use it. Will any privacy be protected on the computer?
  • Guests. Guests of any nature should probably be very limited. Guests who are romantically linked to one of the parties probably shouldn't be brought home.
  • Sharing Time with the Kids. Sometimes conflicts develop over who is responsible for certain kid activities or duties. Sometimes conflicts develop over who gets to have fun with the kids at different times. If there is a possible conflict, the parents should coordinate their time with the kids in advance.
  • Discussion of the Divorce. This should probably be off limits or, at most, very limited. People going through divorce usually can't resolve tough issues on their own. If the parties are going through a Collaborative divorce, they have probably agreed (in the Participation Agreement) not to negotiate outside the joint meetings.

If there is an agreement for the parties to share the house during a Collaborative divorce, it would be helpful to discuss the above issues, and any others that come up, with the help of the professionals in the case. The discussion is not highly technical or legalistic. It's really just a good idea to resolve these issues before they become serious problems.

Good luck if you are sharing your house!


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