We spoke to three adults who have recently undergone a separation to discuss the impact of the split on their housing arrangements.
UK government figures on homelessness show that non-violent breakdown of a relationship with a partner is the fifth most common cause of homelessness. During a separation, it’s common for one of the parties to be forced into temporary accommodation – often moving in with parents or other family. Recent research in both the US and UK has shown that the biggest driver of people moving back in with their parents is the collapse of romantic relationships.
In order to understand how separation and divorce impacts on housing, Cordell & Cordell interviewed three recently separated adults about how they have coped. To protect their privacy, these stories have been anonymised.
Harry and his ex-partner Katie have been married for eight years and took the decision to separate two years ago. They are currently in the process of a divorce. The couple have two children.
Financial constraints initially meant that the couple continued to cohabit in the family home they jointly owned, sleeping in separate bedrooms but still operating as a family in many respects.
After six months the living situation became intolerable. “[At this point] I left the family home and moved in with my mother,” Harry explained. “We both agreed it was best for [our children] to live with their mum in the family home, so as not to disrupt their lives – for example, they could continue to get to school independently.”
While this was originally intended to be a temporary arrangement, eighteen months on the situation remains unchanged. Harry sees his children on alternate weekends, when they stay with him at this mother’s home – but due to space constraints, this involves him sharing a bed with his ten-year-old son. “Its not ideal,” he comments.
Harry has felt unable to move forward with his life due to the living situation he now finds himself in. Unable to agree informally on a financial settlement, the couple are currently trying to resolve the situation at court. Currently, they are at a stalemate, as Katie is unemployed and unable to manage without financial support from Harry.
“I can’t afford to move out of my mum’s house as I have had to support my ex while she struggles to find work, making sure the mortgage and her debts were covered,” explained Harry.
“This has left me with little to no money left each month, and unable to save anything while living at my mum’s.
“I have had to work extra hours to keep afloat and ask my bank to freeze overdraft charges while I am struggling.”
This has taken its toll emotionally on Harry. “It has been very stressful for me dealing with the money issues on top of the separation,” he said. “Especially trying to avoid conflict with my ex with the children present. It has been a mix of frustration and anxiety making sure everything is paid for.”
John and Jess have been married for thirteen years and separated in 2017, after Jess decided she wanted to end the relationship. The couple have three children and jointly own a property.
“When my wife told me that she wanted to separate, I was asked to move out of the property,” explained John. “I decided to take temporary living arrangements as I was hopeful of a reconciliation.”
“At the time of separating, I just needed somewhere to sleep and spent as much time with the children as possible. I moved into a hostel, and sometimes slept on a friend’s sofa.
“This lasted for 8 months, until I decided to find a more suitable home going forward. The main factor was the children and the need to build a home for them when I have them.”
John was able to secure rented accommodation with a family member and plans to remain renting for the foreseeable future, in order to allow his wife to remain in the family home. Currently, the pair have not begun divorce proceedings. “This will happen eventually, but is not something I am pursuing personally,” he said.
“It has affected me financially, as my earnings do not cover my living costs. I needed to find a suitable home for my children, which means I struggle week to week.
“Emotionally, it was hard moving into a new home and not having my children with me all the time. It was lonely. I then had to work hard to try and make the house feel like a home where we could be happy. I have my three children every weekend and on other days throughout the school holidays.”
Selina and David have two children and have been married for three years. They jointly own their family home. The couple agreed to separate earlier this year following some difficult family circumstances.
“My husband wanted to sell the house straight away, but I refused, as I didn’t think it would be the best outcome for the two children,” Selina explained.
“They are settled, and their school is a two-minute walk away. I think keeping them in their own home with familiar surroundings and their usual routine is very important when going through a breakup.
“We also have close friends nearby and really good neighbours, so I feel secure even though I am on my own. “
For a three-month period, there was a tense atmosphere as neither were able to agree on what their future living situation would look like.
“I wanted him to leave, but he refused and said we needed to put the house on the market. I didn’t want to feel forced into a decision,” she said.
“He recently agreed to move out and is now living with his mum and dad, until we can try to sort out the best way financially for us both.”
Selina hopes to remain in the family home as her income is just sufficient to cover the mortgage payments. She has attempted to reach agreement on a financial settlement via mediation, but this was not successful.
“I have tried mediation, but my husband would not co-operate. It is something that will need to be sorted out,” she said.
“Financially, I’m lucky that I am very independent and have my own business. However, money is definitely a worry now as I will have to cover the mortgage.
“Emotionally it’s been hard with the worry about house, money, how the kids will be affected by all of this.
“I am definitely more anxious.”