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Rules For Residing With Your Spouse While Getting A Divorce

Cynthia M. Fox

This article is directed to those that choose, or a forced by economic circumstance, to reside in the same household.

The first rule is to follow the "golden rule": Do unto your estranged mate what you would have them do onto you. Angry husbands and wives living in close proximity tend to give as well as they get. Leaving your dirty dishes, clothing, and athletic gear in shared space just to aggravate your spouse invites them to dispose of them as they see fit...perhaps in the trash dumpster.

Really bad behavior to your cohabitant can become embarrassing if introduced at trial. I recall a case where my client was the wife of a highly placed executive in an important St. Louis public company. To the world, he was highly respected and the epitome of good behavior. However, at the home he still shared with my client, he was verbally abusive in the extreme, loudly and profanely threatening my client.

Seeking to end the daily blast, my client told her husband that she was going to record his outbursts and then proceeded to do so openly. This had no effect except to enrage him further. As the date for trial approached, the judge compelled us to meet and see if we could settle our differences, despite having failed to do so at three prior conferences.

For this meeting, my client brought in a boxful of cassettes and began playing them. After a short period of listening and grimacing, the husband whispered something to his lawyer that was followed by a much more receptive approach to settlement. The result was that we settled on terms very favorable to my client on the stipulation that she relinquish all the tapes to her husband.

The second rule is to set up a living arrangement patterned after how boarders living in the same home might. Each would be allotted their own private space, including sleeping quarters, where possible, while agreeing on a plan for allocating the household tasks and expenses between the two of them. They might eat at separate times/places, and maintain separate foods stocks, in order to reduce the possibility for conflict.

The third rule is to avoid talking about sensitive issues or the divorce case at all, unless prompted to do so by your lawyer. In most circumstances, talking about the case and/or sensitive topics (like your spouse's bad habits) only tends to raise the blood pressure while rarely bringing about a breakthrough in the deadlock. And, careless remarks made in a heated discussion can come back to bite you at trial.

The last rule may seem obvious, but I have seen it happen. Don't entertain a "date" in your shared space. In fact, I advise that there be no one-on-one dating at all until the divorce is final. As such, the corollary to this rule is don't resume marital relations with your soon-to-be "ex". One requirement for obtaining a divorce is that the couple "separate", whether living together or not. As the judge in a famous case I studied in law school said while dismissing a divorce petition: "I will not have you litigating by day and copulating by night."

For over 25 years Cynthia M. Fox has focused her practice in family law, with a particular emphasis on matters relating to the dissolution of marriage: divorce representation and mediation, child custody and child support. She is a native St. Louis and a graduate of the Washington University School of Law, Class of '73.

Cynthia M. Fox can be contacted by phone at (314)727-4880 or
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