By Danielle Jenkins
Separation is difficult, no matter how amicable the break up. Add the complications of shared possessions, property ownership and kids, and it can all get very messy very quickly. One of the biggest decisions that will need to be made will of course relate to house and home. If you have a family with children, the logistics of where and with whom everybody will live will need careful thought and planning. The next decision from that discussion will be what will happen with the house.
There are numerous options, none of which are cut and dry. Modern life comes with many complications and there are many unique and intricate situations that couples find themselves in when separating. It’s not always the choice of both partners and if one partner has been financially supporting the other, it represents a greater level of complexity, as the separation of shared lives unfolds. Of course the everyday elements of life continue, such as school, work and soccer practice, but there will be new structures required around who lives where and how the kids get moved around between everything and everyone. Building a new life for everyone that’s functional is the obvious goal.
Generally speaking, the options regarding what will happen tend to be leveraged around the children, if there are any. Both partners may continue to live in the house for a period of time until they can work out alternative living arrangements for everyone. This is rare though as animosity is a common companion during a separation. One partner may buy out the other partner so the kids can stay in the family home. The partner that moves out will then move elsewhere, ideally to a place that can accommodate the children as needed or decided. If a partner loses custody completely, they may want to move as far away as possible. It may be decided that everyone needs a fresh start so the house is sold, enabling each partner to start again and forge ahead freely with new futures. As you can see – there are complications and difficult logistics, regardless of the choice made. Couples counselling anyone?
Modern relationships often take a more intellectual approach to separation and there are some good news stories for those feeling hopeless about their future. Some couples separate, but remain committed to respecting each other and retaining a sense of the family unit. Depending on the couple’s financial circumstances and existing property portfolio, there may be an opportunity to retain the family home as an investment property, and buy two new properties for the separated partners, leveraged off the existing property or properties owned. The ownership structure of these properties should be well thought out and professionally drawn up, but if the long-term future of the children is a priority, this can be a smart financial decision that solves immediate problems and builds on the family’s investment portfolio.
Of course, many separations are far from friendly and in these cases, it’s best to make a clean break. This allows both partners to have the chance at a fresh start, without living in the memories of the previous relationship. When deciding to sell the property the first action should be to get a valuation. This may happen in the early stages of the separation, or be requested as part of the divorce proceedings. Each partner may choose to get their own valuations or one valuation can be arranged, then a real estate agent can be engaged to assist with the sale of the property. Ideally, both partners will agree on a suitable agent who can address the needs of both partners individually. Agents are generally well-experienced with separations and understand that they must manage to stay unbiased and objective, an not get involved in the personal details.
Whatever the next stage is, remember that each partner will have a whole new life ahead of them, with new choices and changes that cannot be predicted at the time of separating. One couple, for example, agreed to share custody of the children and buy an additional property together - a one-bedroom apartment near the family home. This meant the children were not shuffled between houses and the parents shared the apartment, but never lived there at the same time. Whichever parent didn’t have the children would stay in the apartment, while the other parent was on duty in the house with the kids. This worked in the short term, until one of them got a new partner and then the three of them were all awkwardly ‘sharing’ the 1 bedroom place.
One or both partners will move on in time and, although it’s tempting to take ‘soft option’ decisions in the short term, more often than not it’s better for everyone if the permanent solutions are decided and put in place as quickly as possible. Then everyone can adjust and get on with their lives and their new version of normal. If one partner starts a new family, then who stays where? Separation is not just the dissolution of a marriage – it means separating your lives. Having kids of course makes it challenging but making a clean break and undoing the ties that bind is crucial. Your lives should no longer be intertwined and no matter how amicable things are today, you need to make plans for both of your lives changing in the future. New partners will impact on your arrangements as they come with their own set of needs and ideas (and potentially children too).
If talks have broken down, get professional advice and support as quickly as possible to avoid things getting too messy and complex. When emotions are high, bad decisions get made so start by reading the information on the Family Court of Australia’s website and decide if the next person to contact is a valuer, a real estate agent or a lawyer.