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High Housing Costs Forcing Divorced Couples To Live Together

by Sharon Jackson  on December 26, 2023 under 

Skyrocketing housing costs have created a nightmare scenario for divorced and separated couples - being forced to continue living together. High mortgage rates, nearing 7%, paired with record-breaking home prices make it impossible for many to afford two separate households after splitting up. Selling their current home with a mortgage under 3% and buying or renting new places is often out of the question.

With no good options, estranged spouses stuck cohabiting try setting boundaries inside the home. They designate his and her spaces, chore schedules, and communicate through texts about comings and goings. To maintain privacy, some resort to tactics like locking bedroom doors and hoarding personal items.

Understandably, most separated couples keep their unusual arrangement secret out of embarrassment or because it seems unbelievable. They aim for civility, especially if kids are involved, while anxiously waiting for the housing market to improve enough to finally go their separate ways.

A wife and her soon-to-be ex-husband, bought their home in July 2022 with a mortgage of about $600,000 carrying an interest rate of 5.62%. They had planned to refinance when rates dropped, but are now divorcing and stuck with a house fallen in value that neither can afford alone.

Unable to afford the monthly payments, the exes have stopped making them and are negotiating with the bank to accept a short sale price lower than the home's value. The soon-to-be-ex-husabnd, an insurance agent and part-time elementary school assistant, intends to stay until it sells.

After two awkward months of continuing to live together post-split for financial reasons and their daughters' sake, the ex-wife found an affordable rental on Facebook and moved out last month. The ex-husband will temporarily live with friends once the home sells.

Figuring Out A Way To Mitigate Higher Costs

Some couples considering divorce are hesitating to file due to uncertainties about jobs and the expenses of establishing two households, along with existing debt. Others proceed but negotiate agreements to postpone selling or refinancing their home.

One woman made a deal with her ex-husband to buy out 40% of his equity in their house with its low 3.25% rate, and pay the remainder within 3 years. Though prolonging her ties was not ideal, Ana felt it was the only viable option given today's high mortgage rates. "If rates weren't so high, I would have sold the house and moved or refinanced," she explained.

With homes being a couple's main asset typically, deciding what to do with it remains a key issue in divorce. Traditionally, couples sell and split proceeds or one spouse refinances and buys the other's interest. However, with rates at 20-year highs, selling or refinancing can be more difficult.

"We are working on what some days feels like the impossible: cohabiting and co-parenting in a 1,200-square-foot home," one mom said about sharing a small ranch house with her estranged husband.

Divorced couples staying together try creating boundaries and maintaining civility, especially if kids are involved. But it's challenging until they can afford two households.

Another divorced couple opted against buying or renting separate homes because of high prices. Instead, they use the money saved for their kids' sports activities.

A 47-year-old woman lacking her own car purchased one to occasionally get away for a few hours from the home she shares with her soon-to-be ex-husband and their two adult children.

A divorce financial mediator who worked with a couple with five kids who had to move 30 miles outside the city to afford two 4-bedroom houses after separating. As the financial mediator explained, "To get a four-bedroom house for each of them, they had to get out of town and go where houses cost less."

Some couples considering divorce are hesitating to file due to job uncertainty and expenses of two households, plus existing debt. Others proceed but negotiate deferring selling or refinancing their home.

Homes, typically a couple's main asset, remain a key issue in divorce. Usually couples sell and split proceeds or one refinances and buys the other's interest. But with today's high mortgage rates, selling or refinancing is harder.

Keeping Necessary New Boundaries

Sharon Jackson, a family law attorney in metro Atlanta, has seen more estranged couples sharing homes this year because they cannot afford to move out. As Jackson explains, "They're staying together for housing sake." She says it can work if couples respect each other's private space, keep separate accounts for personal expenses and childcare schedules.

A divorce coach believes older divorced couples continuing to live together is more common. Regardless of age, she says establishing new boundaries is important if unable to leave the home, such as buying separate groceries and doing your own laundry. "If you can't stay married and you can't leave, you can create a new set of rules to symbolize that things are not the same," she explains.

One divorcee and her estranged husband continued residing together for months after she filed for divorce. She says they established boundaries in their jointly owned home despite its low 3.5% mortgage rate.

The woman filed for divorce in August 2022 but her spouse didn't move out until April 2023. During that time, communication was minimal. Each spouse grocery shopped separately. It helped that she could escape to her son's home to care for grandchildren.

The woman then finally decided to refinance her home, paying a 6.45% rate - much higher than the previous 3.5% rate - to buy out her husband's share. With her husband now moved out,she says she'll have to wait for rates to fall before refinancing again.

"I'm going to need to bide my time until interest rates decrease to refinance once more," she explains.

The soaring costs of housing have put many divorcing couples in a difficult situation where they cannot afford to maintain two separate households. As a result, some are choosing to continue living together in the marital home even after filing for divorce. This uneasy arrangement is born of financial necessity rather than desire.

Estranged spouses stuck sharing a home try to create boundaries by assigning spaces, scheduling time in common areas, and communicating whereabouts. However, the situation often remains emotionally painful and confusing, especially for any children involved. Most couples in this situation aim to maintain civility and split into two homes as soon as economically feasible.

Overall, the housing affordability crisis has complicated an already emotionally fraught process for divorcing couples. Continuing to cohabitate is a temporary band-aid solution at best. The most workable long-term resolution is for the couple to develop a plan to equitably divide assets like the marital home so each can move on and build separate lives.

Ready to continue living your life on your own terms?

In Georgia, Attorney Sharon Jackson understands the emotional upheaval divorce and custody disputes can cause. Her compassionate legal team aims to reduce family conflict through solutions like mediation. Sharon Jackson LLC's family law services assist clients in achieving separate but peaceful lives during the divorce or separation process. Her expertise provides clients the knowledge and support needed to transition to the next stage of life.

Serving the Metro Atlanta area, family law attorney Sharon Jackson is here to help. Call (678) 909-4100 to schedule a consultation.


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