When separation occurs it is an incredibly emotional time, not only because of the breakdown of the relationship but also because of the big changes that often follow, such as finding a new place to live. Many people don’t feel ready to make such a big change immediately after separation, or if they are ready, the current economic circumstances, mean they are unable to afford a property that offers a similar lifestyle. So, what are the options and who gets to stay in the family home after separation?  What happens if no one wants to move out – can you still be legally separated but live under the same roof?

Separation occurs when at least one person makes the decision to end the relationship and acts on that decision and tells the other person. Following separation, both parties are entitled to remain living in the family home, unless a court order provides otherwise. Normally though, one party will move out of the family home, but this isn’t a strict requirement for separation.

It is possible to be separated while continuing to live in the same residence. There will however be other clear evidence that the relationship has ended such as (1) sleeping in separate bedrooms (2) ceased intimacy and sexual activity (3) separation of bank accounts and finances (4) no longer attending social activities together (5) acting in a way to family, friends, and other third that demonstrates the relationship is over.

What does separation under the same roof look like?

There are no formulas or rules for living separated under the same roof- it will be different in each situation. For some people, separation under the same roof may involve living and sleeping in designated private areas but agreeing to schedule when common areas of the house can be used by each party. Other people may prefer more of a nesting arrangement where one party remains in the whole house for a period, while the party stays with family or friends, with the arrangement then reversing.

Regardless of the specifics of the arrangement, communication, respect and clear boundaries are key. It is also best if living separately under the same roof isn’t seen as an open-ended proposition. It generally works best as a short to mid-term arrangement while steps are taken toward more permanent arrangements.

When is separation under the same roof suitable?

Separation under the same roof isn’t suitable in all situations. It isn’t suitable when there is family violence or other safety risks. It also generally won’t be appropriate when there is high conflict and acrimony.  It works best when there is workable communication and mutual respect.

What are some tips for being separated under the same roof?

Living under the same roof with your ex can be challenging but there are some tips that can make the situation easier for everyone:

  1. Tell the children together about the decision to separate and explain that things around the house will look different now. Do this in a way that they understand and that is appropriate for their age.
  2. Agree to a co-parenting schedule so that the children get used to spending individual time with each parent.
  3. Work out a roster or schedule for housework and chores.
  4. Set ground rules about who can come to the house, for example, whether a date or new partner is welcome to visit the house.

How are finances handled when living separately but under the same roof?

Finances are one of the main points of contention and stress when couples separate. When living separately but under the same roof, generally, all living expenses will be paid for separately and independently, except for expenses relating to the shared residence for example mortgage, rent or utilities. Having separate bank accounts will help provide evidence of your separation and track of payment of expenses, which can often be needed later when property and financial settlement is completed.

Be open if you are struggling with meeting your share of the expenses for the property as there are sometimes options such as applying for a loan holiday or a temporary reduction in payments.

How to get free legal advice?

If you have further questions about cohabitating with your ex during the separation process, New Way Lawyers provide free legal help every lunchtime via their Facebook group ‘Lunch with a Lawyer’. Alternatively, you can contact them to formalise agreements or a free 20-minute consultation by phoning (07) 3548 5890.

Article by Carolyn Devries, founder of New Way Lawyers


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