Once the decision to divorce has been made, it is only a matter of time until one or both spouses move out of the marital home. Indeed, most divorcing spouses are eager to separate as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the issue can be fairly complex. Below are some of the primary considerations that you should take into account before you or spouse move out.
Safety of All Involved
The safety of the parties and their children is paramount. If you or your children have been the victims of domestic violence, it may be necessary to find alternative shelter in a hurry. When taking this measure, especially if children are involved, make sure you consult with an attorney at the earliest opportunity, ideally before you move out. It is generally wise to obtain a written agreement or court order regarding the children’s placement before you leave. There may also be legal remedies that you are unaware of, such as an emergency restraining order. These orders typically require the abusive spouse to move out of the marital home immediately and stay away until the order is lifted. When considering whether or not you are in a domestic violence situation, remember that not all forms of abuse are physical. Verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and coercive control can be just as damaging to you or your children.
Pre-Divorce Parenting Plans
If you and your spouse decide to physically separate before the divorce process is over, it is highly recommended that, at minimum, you write down and sign a temporary parenting plan. The written plan will not be enforceable unless and until it is incorporated into a court order, but an agreement signed by both parents can still be useful. Stability and routine are important for children, so try to be clear when you write down your parenting time schedule. If you have any concerns at all about whether or not you are giving up too much parenting time or exposing the children to risk, you should consult with an attorney before reaching an agreement and before moving out. Once a schedule is established, it can be difficult to change.
The math is easy: it is more expensive to maintain two households than it is to maintain one. If financial limitations are the paramount concern, you may be prevented from physically separating as soon as you would like. However, there are often creative fixes. For example, you may be able to rent a small apartment and share it on an alternating schedule. This arrangement of “nesting” or “bird-nesting” allows you to take turns in having access to the home and kids. It is also possible to divide up areas of the home and/or parental responsibilities so that there is less contact between you and your spouse. In high-conflict cases, these arrangements may prove to be untenable due to the opportunities that they present for manipulation and gamesmanship.
No matter what your circumstances are, it is important to keep hostility to a minimum. Exposure to conflict is bad for you, your spouse, and – especially – the children. In many divorce cases, exposure to interparental conflict (IPC) is the number one risk to the children. If you instigate or contribute to this problem, you will hurt your case with respect to custody and parenting time. You may also cause long-term damage to your children’s health and development. If you find yourself in a situation where you or your children are continually exposed to stressful conflict, you should see an attorney as soon as possible.