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I’m Moving Out…Into Our Basement!

by Betsy Ross LICSW CGP on January 31, 2011

“We want a divorce, but our house is worth less than we bought it for and we can’t afford two residences” has become a mantra among today’s divorcing couples. With unemployment at an all time high, housing prices ‘under water’, and a sluggish economy, many divorcing couples are becoming much more creative and working together when it comes to living arrangements.

A great deal of confusion can occur for children in families where the parents have decided to divorce but continue living together in the same room or on the same floor. This can also fan the flame of hope among the children that Mom and Dad will change their minds and call off the divorce. While many couples can’t afford the costs to construct an apartment in their basement or attic, some couples are turning single family dwellings into two family homes along emotional lines. One couple chose to have the husband set up house in the basement with the understanding that the downstairs space (a large carpeted basement area and a small bathroom) was going to be Dad’s place. They moved enough furniture and appliances downstairs to make it feel like a ‘home’ for Dad until the couple could sell their house. They also set up new family rules so that downstairs visits needed to be scheduled rather than spontaneous and, at certain times of day or during the week, Dad’s spot was off limits to family members.

This actually worked to the family’s advantage as the two spouses could unravel their longterm relationship more slowly and make well-planned decisions concerning their individual and family’s future. Their children benefitted as well as they could gradually become used to seeing Dad and Mom in separate spaces and adjust their thinking from Mom and Dad to Mom’s space or Dad’s space.  (Prior to this, their three children were confused about whether or not Mom and Dad were indeed splitting up as they were both living upstairs in close physical proximity).

This type of arrangement won’t work for every couple or every family. High conflict relationships between the two spouses, love affairs, substance abuse issues and the like, can complicate things and make an in-home, separate living spaces situation nearly impossible. But, for those who are willing to work cooperatively and try to help each other disentangle when finances are limited, in home separate spaces can be an effective solution for the short term.

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