Living Together Apart: When Divorce Makes It Too Expensive To Move Out

As a consequence of the bad economy and high real estate prices, more and more couples continue to share the same home, even after they divorce.

Living on the wife's couch (Plutor)
Living on the wife's couch (Plutor)
Catherine Rollot

PARIS - Some take over the couch or sleep in the guestroom; others still share the conjugal bed, albeit in an icy atmosphere. As divorce has gone mainstream, more and more separated couples continue to live under the same roof, at least temporarily.

The bad economy, the high cost of real estate and fear of a social downgrade has made the financial cost of separations even harder to bear. These forced cohabitations are still the exception, but could become more common as long-term economy problems grow.

As this new trend is often concealed, it's difficult to quantify it. But what is sure is that it comes from the U.S., where it's called "living together apart" and mostly affects the poor. "In poor neighborhoods, studies reveal that the lack of financial resources is the main reason for these arrangements," explains sociologist Claude Martin, research director at the French CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research).

"In the U.S., this involuntary cohabitation is sometimes the only way to avoid an even worse situation- like being forced into homelessness. It allows to save money and maintain a link between parents and children," he adds. An estimated 10% of impoverished families are concerned by this phenomenon, which increased during the subprime mortgage crisis.

Too expensive to divorce

Claude Martin tried to understand if the same explanations applied in France. In spite of a very different sample group – middle class couples in majority – he came to the same conclusion: the fear of financial consequences following a divorce. "The aftermath of a separation is too expensive for many French couples. So they stay together because they can't find a new house or because they don't want to divide up what they had bought together," Claude Martin explains.

Every day, Benoît Delesalle, a Parisian notary, sees divorcing couples who are just realizing how much their separation will cost them: "A few days ago, I had a couple who was in the middle of a crisis. They wanted advice on how to make ends meet in case of separation. They left my office saying they were going to rethink about divorcing."

Benoît Delesalle's colleague Christelle Dewailly, confirms another trend: "Since the increase of the "asset division tax," many people have postponed or cancelled their separation." This tax is collected by the State after a divorce, when the former married couple shares his assets. It rose from 1.1 % to 2.5 % on January 1st of this year. In addition to notary's charges, the asset division tax weighs heavily on the divorce bill and in some cases, also delays the emotional separation.

The real estate market isn't helping

According to sociologist Sylvie Cadolle, "the high cost of real estate explains why separations are more complicated nowadays than 40 years ago." "When there are children involved and that the parents need to find two apartments close to each other to prevent the children from being uprooted, life becomes more complicated – and even more if there isn't a high budget," adds Bernard Cadeau, CEO of the Orpi real estate agencies network.

Selling a home can also be a difficult feat, which also explains that some couples have to postpone their physical separation. "Since a few months now, it takes 10% more time to sell a home," Bernard Cadeau explains. And even if the average time to sell a home is three months, it sometimes needs much more time to find a buyer, particularly if the price does not match the market. "Sometimes, there are disagreements within the couple on the price at which the house should be sold or on the sale strategy and it paralyses the process."

If financial issues render separations more difficult, they aren't preventing people from getting divorced. The number of divorces has constantly increased since the 1960s – 130,900 cases in 2011 – without counting separations and civil unions.

Other reasons can also postpone a separation: "The need to protect the children or the hope of a reconciliation can also explain these living together apart cases," explains Claude Martin. Nonetheless, these couples need to respect each other or else the cohabitation is doomed to failure.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Plutor

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