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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Living Together After Divorce: It CAN work

living together after divorceIf you've been through a divorce, you know that running into your ex-spouse can be really stressful. Some deal with that issue every day. Because of the failing economy, more and more couples are choosing not to divorce, citing the financial hardship such a move would cause. Even more couples are being forced to live together because neither one can afford to move out. I'll tell you about one such couple. My father and his second wife, Susan, have been divorced for a year, but they remain in the same home. My dad doesn't really like the situation, but he is handling it with good grace and a great measure of patience.

Susan found out before she and my father married that she has Huntington's disease, a progressive, degenerative neurological disorder. People with Huntington's often suffer from jerky, uncoordinated body movements and a decline in mental abilities. The disease itself isn't fatal, but as symptoms get worse a lot of complications can arise that both shorten life and reduce the quality of it. Knowing what he was getting into, my father chose to marry her anyway. They got along well for almost five years, until my father found out that Susan had been unfaithful. Things around their house got more and more strained, with Susan and my father fighting about everything, day in and day out.

Finally, my father had enough and he filed for divorce. The divorce was granted in January of 2008, but by then Susan's health and mental capacity had deteriorated to the point that she could not live on her own. My father couldn't afford to put her in an assisted-living facility, because he is on a fixed income and only gets $800 per month. That barely covers his mortgage payment. She has no family that is willing to help, either. He makes a little pocket money selling on eBay, but not nearly enough to afford a new residence. Basically, he's stuck between a rock and a hard place. He can't leave, but he doesn't want to stay either. Many others are in a similar situation, and here are some tidbits on couples living together after divorce:

  • Many couples choose to live together after a separation or divorce for financial reasons. Perhaps one was the primary breadwinner and the other cannot afford to move out on their own, or they owe more on their home than what it's worth (otherwise known as being "upside down") and cannot find a buyer. This is especially true in today's dismal housing market. Homes that would before sell within weeks, now remain listed for months at a time, if they sell at all.
  • Some couples remain together out of stubbornness. Neither one wants to concede, or be perceived as being "in the wrong", so they delay the inevitable.
  • Living with an ex is usually the last resort. (as evidenced by my father's situation)
  • Many couples who remain together after divorce are seniors living on fixed incomes, who have no family living in the area that they can depend on.
  • Also, a lot of couples who have young children are electing to stay together after divorce, because they believe it's cheaper to maintain the status quo than it is to deal with child support and alimony issues.
Read a related article here, or here.

The state of the economy (such as it is) is surely contributing to the divorce rate. It's been said that money is the number one issue that couples fight over, and it's also the number one reason they divorce. If there isn't enough money to go around, and both parties are stressed out about how their bills are going to get paid, that stress and resentment will spill over into other areas of their relationship, deteriorating it.


I admire the way my father has handled the situation. He's dealing with a wife, who now has the mental and physical capacity of the average five-year old. He takes care of all her personal needs, getting up at 5 am to make sure she takes all of her medications, bathing her, dressing her, feeding her, and anything else she may need. He seems to be coping well, and is receiving a lot of support from everyone in the family. He's a Christian, and I believe that his faith in God is helping him get through this tough situation. We all get together and help him whenever he needs it, and we sit with Susan once or twice a week so that he can get out of the house. I honestly don't know how he has the discipline to do it, (Maybe his training as a Marine has something to do with it) especially as he's no longer legally obligated to do so. He told me that he does it "because I would want someone to do the same for me". I've recommended that he call the local Hospice and get them involved, even if it is just for "respite care" for Susan, so that he can have a break occasionally. He has an appointment with them on February 23rd, and I hope that they are able to help him.

Living together after divorce can happen for many reasons, and some handle it better than others. My father is a prime example of how to "make the best of a bad situation". I hope that others in a similar situation can take something from this story and apply it to their own lives. It's tricky, but it can work.

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