What Living Arrangements Are Acceptable When Separating?

In Separation & Divorce by Elizabeth Stephenson

Absolute divorce requires that couples live “separate and apart” for a period of a year before they can obtain a divorce. This can be a source of great stress for many couples. Often, living separate and apart means that instead of one mortgage or monthly rent payment, that number doubles. Thus, the separate and apart arrangement can create great financial strain for couples that may have already experienced difficulty in making ends meet.

As a result, many couples try to find ways to meet this requirement without breaking the bank. Some ideas that couples have tried include sleeping in separate beds, sleeping in different bedrooms, or one spouse living in the garage. Unfortunately, under North Carolina laws, separate and apart means that couples must live in separate residences—sleeping in different beds or living in different rooms of the same house does not satisfy this requirement.

This means that if a couple living in separate bedrooms seeks a divorce after a year, a court will reject their request and tell them that they can come back in another year so long as one spouse moves out. While this may sound harsh, a failure to adhere to the separate and apart provision means that you were not separated in the eyes of the law.

Thus, if it is your desire to separate with the intention of a divorce, you should consult with a family law attorney for advice. Some of the options you may consider are:

  • One spouse stays at other existing property. If you or your spouse own additional real estate locally, or if you own additional real estate as a couple, then one spouse can live there while the other remains in the family home.
  • You and your spouse can reach an agreement to sell the house and the proceeds can eventually be used toward separate living arrangements. However, this is not an ideal choice, as you may want your children to maintain living stability and to continue to go to the same school. In addition, the real estate market is fickle and it can be hard to sell your home.
  • Sell other property. You and your spouse can reach a post-separation agreement to agree to sell or refinance the marital property so that one spouse can rent an apartment while the other remains in the family home.
  • Stay with friend or family. Some spouses choose to stay in the spare bedroom at the home of a family member or friend. This would easily satisfy the separate living requirement while saving money.

New Direction Family Law

Separation and divorce can be very expensive. This means that it is critical to engage in thoughtful planning. A post-separation agreement can go a long way toward helping you establish some financial predictability during this uncertain time. If you want help, contact New Direction Family Law. Our attorneys are smart and detail-oriented and can guide you through the separation and divorce process. Call New Direction Family Law at (919) 719-3470 to schedule an appointment, or contact us through our website.