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Why do people still live together when they're separated?

In some cases, a couple knows the marriage is over. They haven't officially divorced, but they're separated. It's the first step toward ending things.

However, even when they're technically not thinking of themselves as a couple, they keep living together. This situation can grow complex and stressful, and it can have a serious impact on the legal side of the eventual divorce proceedings. So why do people do it?

Why it happens

Some common reasons include:

  • Not wanting to tell the kids. They know the official divorce is going to take some time, so they want to wait to tell the kids, and they'll still pretend to be the same married couple they were before.
  • Saving money. Cohabitation is cheaper. You only have one rent payment or mortgage payment. You share utilities. You share food. Couples without a lot of extra money will stay together to save up funds for the divorce.
  • Not knowing what will happen with the house. Do they sell it and both move? How fast will it realistically sell? Does one person keep it? If so, does that mean refinancing it, a process that could take weeks or months on its own?
  • Hoping it's not over. One person said that his wife decided to stay in the home, sleeping in their guest bedroom, when they were splitting up. At first, he was happy about it because he did not want to get divorced and thought she might change her mind if she didn't move out.
  • Co-parenting. Both people can stay just as involved with the kids if they still live together, in the same home as the children. It makes being parents easier, even if the living situation is stressful as a couple.

These are just a few examples, and every case is different, but you can see how cohabitation could make sense and how it could drag on for far longer than either person expects.

The legal ramifications

It's critical for couples to know that refusing to move out can impact the divorce, specifically when it comes to division of assets.

Marital assets are those obtained as a couple. Since divorce takes time, assets gained after the date of separation are typically separate assets, even if you're technically still married. You don't have to split money earned over four months while you're ending the marriage.

However, courts have ruled that you don't get a separation date until one person moves out. If you're living together, you're still accumulating marital assets that can get divided. It doesn't matter if you think of yourselves as a couple or individuals.

This doesn't mean that cohabitation never makes sense, but it's simply important to understand all sides of it before deciding how to proceed.

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