Living together after a marriage separation may sound like a smart way to save money and reduce post-divorce hassles – especially if you remain good friends – but in reality it could be creating more problems than some believe.
There have been a handful of stories in the media of late about couples who hide their separation from the public and continue living as usual under the same roof, but according to family law specialist Jennifer Hetherington it’s a decision fraught with complications.
The Brisbane-based lawyer told Starts at 60 that while some couples separate amicably, continuing to share the same home can complicate a divorce.
“Inevitably following a separation both partners are likely to seek a share of the assets including any property they may own. To do this they have to prove they are living separately and apart,” she explained.
“If you keep it secret that can be difficult to prove. Further, if you don’t do a property settlement and one partner later claims we were still a couple, it could have ramifications on the outcome of the settlement.”
Prominent Australian actor and Blue Heelers star John Wood understands both the benefits and difficulties that occur in this kind of situation, revealing to Starts at 60 earlier this year his five-year separation from his wife and their choice to live together as friends.
The 71-year-old explained while it has been difficult, they have managed to make their unusual set up work, describing their relationship as “friendly enemies”.
“My wife and I separated about five years ago, it happens. I didn’t make a big fuss of it at the time,” he explained. “We’re living back in the same house now. We’re friendly enemies I suppose! No, look I don’t know, I don’t suppose you could say it’s working out all that well but we’re battling on.
“We have three grandchildren who are the light of our lives. It’s wonderful, and nice for them to see us together.”
However, Hetherington said while Wood’s situation is working out at the moment, others may find themselves with a more unfortunate turn of events.
“Relationships can end for a bewildering variety of reasons and while one couple may be able to continue to share a home as flatmates, it doesn’t mean others could do the same,” she explained.
“Quite apart from the legal aspects of the division of property and assets there’s the human element to consider too. You used to be married, now you’re divorced but still sharing the same home. What do you do if your former partner meets another person and brings them home?”
In order to keep the situation amicable, Hetherington advised couples who separate ensure the legal requirements are sorted, including a property settlement, before planning the next stage of their lives.
“People may think staying under the one roof despite it being unbearable is their only option, but it might not be. We encourage clients, especially those approaching retirement, to work with specialist financial planners to assess all their options before resigning themselves to being separated but not living separately,” she said.
“Another thing to remember is the importance of updating a will, or enduring powers of attorney and superannuation beneficiaries because if you separate but keep it quiet and stay in the same home it might be hard to prove the separation actually happened if one party dies.”