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Living apart under the same roof: a survival guide

There’s one phase of the divorce process that many couples dread, but it can be unavoidable: living together after you decide to split. In most cases, people continue to live in the same home out of financial necessity, for the kids, or because they want to test the waters of separation without making it official.

The state of Virginia requires couples who want to file for divorce to live separately for a full year before they’re able to move forward with the legal aspects. This can make things difficult for those who can’t afford to immediately move apart from each other, or whose parenting situation makes it difficult. These couples often end up in what feels like a state of “limbo” with their separation—not having taken any official legal action, but forced to co-exist as though you’re living separately.

Virginia courts do allow for this provision, but there must be strict criteria met. It can be difficult to prove that you’ve truly been living separately, but with due diligence and careful documentation, you can ensure that you have your separation counted as truly living apart, even if you’re under one roof.

What the courts need from you

To qualify, it’s important that you practice being separated. This can include:

  • Sleeping in separate areas
  • Refraining from romantic or sexual contact with one another
  • Keeping separate living quarters
  • Not buying food for one another or running errands on each other’s behalf
  • Eating and preparing meals separately, excepting special occasions or holidays
  • Not attending social functions, church, or other events together
  • Not sharing a vehicle
  • Removing your wedding rings and being transparent with others about your intentions
  • Keeping separate finances, including opening separate bank accounts

Not every divorcing couple who lives separately in the same home can always accomplish every single one of these, especially when children are involved. Extenuating circumstances aside, however, you should practice these and submit evidence of them to the court when it’s time to file for your divorce, including witnesses to the arrangement. An attorney can help you figure out what you’ll need.

Keeping yourself sane

One of the biggest challenges in keeping up with this is the temptation to cave in and return to normalcy. True, some couples do find that a trial separation can reunite them, but in many cases, they end up falling into the same patterns and find themselves back at square one.

Finally, here are a few tips for keeping yourself sane through the separation when you’re still in the same home and making sure you stay the course:

  • Plan for how you’ll interact. Schedule times to use the kitchen separately, alert one another to your schedules, and set guidelines or rules for times where it’s necessary to be in one another’s presence.
  • Arrange regular times where one or the other can be completely alone in the home, including without the kids if there are any. Alone time can help you recalibrate and feel more independent.
  • Now is a great time to get active. Sign up at the gym you’ve been meaning to join, rekindle or grow some outside friendships, volunteer, take lots of walks or hikes—anything that will get you out of the house regularly.
  • See a therapist who can help you process what you’re going through. Sometimes, the lack of interaction can make it seem like you’re getting along better than ever, but this is unfortunately often an illusion. A therapist can help you look deeper into how you got to the tip of the divorce iceberg in the first place and reframe your focus.
  • Start making financial preparations for the divorce, including gathering up documents you’ll need and researching information. Keeping your eye on the prize can go a long way in maintaining your sanity and peace of mind during this uncomfortable phase.

Speak with an attorney prior to beginning this arrangement to make sure you have all of your bases covered and don’t end up thwarting your chance of proving that you’ve been keeping separate living arrangements over the course of a year. The payoff of your discipline is a new chapter of life.