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This content serves informational purposes and may not encompass all individual scenarios. For situations involving domestic violence or other unsafe conditions, not all the recommendations herein are applicable. For domestic, family and sexual violence information head over to 1800RESPECT

Understanding “Separated Under One Roof” 

The decision to separate from a spouse is a significant turning point in anyone’s life. In an ideal world, this would mean an immediate physical separation, but that’s often not feasible for various reasons. This guide aims to provide an in-depth, empathetic and informative analysis of how to navigate living “separated under one roof” whilst covering emotional, financial and practical aspects.

Definition

The term refers to couples who’ve decided to end their romantic involvement but still share the same residence. This could be a temporary arrangement pending financial stability, real estate availability, or divorce. It could also be a more extended agreement due to specific circumstances.

Reasons for Continued Co-habitation After Separation

Several factors often influence the choice to maintain a shared residence after separation:

  • Financial Constraints: Supporting two separate households may be unfeasible.
  • Childcare: A stable environment for children often necessitates both parents’ presence.
  • Property Considerations: The couple may be waiting for an opportune time to sell the shared property.
  • Emotional Transition: Some couples benefit from a grace period to adjust emotionally.

Do’s and Don’ts

Do’s

  • Establish Boundaries: Clearly specify which spaces are communal and private.
  • Open Communication: Maintain regular dialogue about both parties’ emotional and practical needs.
  • Seek Professional Help: Don’t underestimate the value of therapeutic or financial advice.
  • Communicate with Children: Keep your kids in the loop.
  • Plan for the Future: Have a timeline for eventual physical separation.

Don’ts

  • Avoid Mixed Signals: Be clear about the finality of the separation.
  • Don’t Involve Kids in Conflicts: Always shield children from your disagreements.
  • Avoid Old Habits: Old routines can send misleading signals.
  • No Assumptions: Always clarify, never assume.
  • Avoid Negative Talk: Badmouthing each other only heightens tension.
  • Stop Sleeping Together: this applies to physically sleeping in the same bed and also having sex together. Maintaining a plutonic, physically separate lifestyle is crucial to avoid mixed signals and murky misunderstandings

Challenges and Their Solution

Emotional Tensions

The Issue: Past conflicts and lingering emotions don’t disappear overnight. This can make the shared living environment emotionally draining.

Solutions

  • Therapy and Counseling: Utilising professional services, possibly even virtual ones, can help process emotions and enhance communication. There are virtual counseling options to make things easier, after hours to suit both of your schedules. 
  • Personal Freedom: Each party should feel free to pursue their interests without feeling guilt-tripped. Openly discussing emotional expectations will help create an environment where both parties feel supported but not suffocated by one another.
  • Transparent Emotional Expectations: Regular dialogue about what both parties require emotionally can clarify the situation and reduce misunderstandings. Communication should extend beyond just setting boundaries; it should also encompass regular check-ins and updates on each individual’s life outside of this unique living situation, especially where children are involved. 
  • Avoid Rehashing Old Arguments: instead, focus on current and future topics. 
  • Practice Self-care! Living together after separation can be emotionally taxing, so it’s important to prioritise self-care. This means taking time for yourself, pursuing hobbies and interests, and seeking support when needed. 

Financial Responsibilities When Separated Under One Roof 

The Issue: Unclear financial delineation can lead to unnecessary conflicts and misunderstandings.

Solutions

  • Separate Banking: Create individual accounts and place two-person authority on joint accounts.
  • Financial Agreements: Come to an agreement on income, expenses and shared responsibilities. Ensure that joint account balances remain as unchanged as possible until you’ve completely navigated your property settlement. 
  • Evidence Of Agreement: have an agreement, in email/message or written down, and include how much each of you can withdraw/spend from joint accounts per week/month and when you need to seek the other’s approval for exceptions to the agreement.

Note: if you intend to update your status as Separated with Services Australia ( Centrelink, ATO, Child Support etc) it’s recommended you establish yourself separately, financially. Having evidence of this will also help if you go on to claim Separated Under One Roof or similar supports.

  • Honest Communication: Discuss, honestly, both of your immediate and short-term financial needs. If possible, sit down with your now ex-partner to discuss your individual financial situations, including income, expenses, debts and spending limits/approvals. For a comprehensive list of considerations, check out our Separation Checklist.  
  • Agree Guidelines: for sharing child-related financial responsibilities, such as a schedule for each parent’s care of the child/ren, child support payments, childcare payments, school, sports and medical expenses. Even if you decide to arrange a private agreement on child support, it’s recommended that you have a child support assessment complete with Child Support. Whilst no government process/methodology is perfect, the formula used by Services Australia takes into consideration: the parents’ income and combined income, how much time each parent cares for the child and the child’s age 
  • Professional Advice: depending on your circumstances, you may want to seek legal and financial advice to protect your individual assets or clarify financial responsibilities. This is particularly important if you own property or businesses together or have joint debts.

Boundaries within Shared Spaces When Living Together, Separated 

The Issue: Without physical separation, demarcating personal space and communal areas can be difficult.

Solutions

  • Defined Spaces: Clearly lay out which areas of the home are communal and private. Don’t forget to include the smaller spaces like pantry shelves, linen space etc. 
  • Timetabled Use of Communal Spaces: Establish a schedule to avoid conflict. Scheduling fortnightly meetings or “housemate check-ins” can provide an opportunity for both parties to discuss any concerns that may have arisen during the week while also touching on what worked well. Discuss what activities are acceptable during individual time, establish quiet hours if necessary and respect each other’s privacy. Noting the agreed boundaries down and both having a copy of these is helpful to ensure they’re easy to reference back to. 
  • Adjustable Boundaries: Be prepared to renegotiate boundaries as circumstances change. As circumstances change, both individuals should feel comfortable discussing any necessary adjustments to ensure the co-living arrangement remains successful and mutually beneficial.

Child-Related Confusions

The Issue: Kids can receive mixed messages when separated parents continue to live together.

Solutions

  • Plan and Research: how best to speak to the child/ren about the separation and potential divorce. Maggie Dent has wonderful resources to help with parenting in general and she’s included a separation/divorce blog that discusses

    when to have the conversation with children, how to frame it, how to tackle it if someone else is involved, and how to help children feel that everything will be ok in your relationship with them, regardless of your relationship with your partner ending

  • Transparent Communication with Children: Explain the new family structure while reaffirming parental love. Reinforcing the idea that the family structure has changed, but parental love remains unchanged, can offer them reassurance. 
  • Co-Parenting Plans: Develop a documented parenting plan outlining responsibilities and custody arrangements. This includes establishing a custody schedule, dividing household duties related to the child/ren and setting guidelines for discipline. Co-parents, under the same roof or not, ideally should include both parents being able to attend school meetings, counseling sessions and even family meetings or dinners occasionally to discuss issues, celebrate birthdays and events and show the kids that you are on the same team.
  • Professional Assistance: Consider seeking professional help if you’re finding it difficult to navigate living together after separation with kids. A counselor, therapist or mediator can help you work through issues or conflicts and help create a plan that works for everyone.

Conclusion

While emotionally complicated, living separately under the same roof is a manageable challenge if approached with maturity, understanding and good communication. This comprehensive guide aims to help couples in this unique situation navigate the various challenges with the empathy and practicality they require.

The journey is undeniably complex, filled with emotional and logistical hurdles. However, with the correct mindset and tools, cohabiting while separated can indeed be a sustainable solution, at least for a transitional period.

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