Who Should Move Out When A Family Divorces


Who Should Move out When a Family Divorces?

Katy* and Alex* came into my office to discuss the state of their marriage. Katy wanted to divorce ad was ready to separate. She was very frustrated with Alex. He was not ready to separate, and hoped their marriage could still be salvaged. “He needs to move out,” Katy insisted. “I will not move out,” he said. For both, their home represented the foundation of their family. Neither wanted to let it go in the face of the instability and colossal transition they were about to step into.

When couples divorce, family members and friends often have strong opinions about significant aspects of their divorce including who should stay in the family home. There is a perspective in our culture, based somewhat on the historical precedent of mothers staying in the family home with their children and fathers moving out when couples separate, that mothers should have the right to keep the original hearth and remain in the family home. 

In the 1960s and 1970s, https://www.insider.com/divorce-rate-changes-over-time-2019-1divorce became more commonplace than it had been before. At that time fathers stereotypically had less time with their children than many contemporary fathers do. We understand the importance of all family relationships much better today than we did, for example, thirty years ago when the stereotype was that dads were less involved with their children than moms were and that nourishing their relationships with their children was less important than it actually is. 

Now that we know that both parental relationships are critical to the children’s overall well-being, how does that impact “who should keep the home”?

If a family is able to keep their family home when a divorce occurs, there is no simple answer to which parent should stay in it and which parent should move out. There are no “shoulds” that apply across different families’ circumstances. Every family is unique and the relationships between individuals and families and their homes, and between parents and children, and their financial details, differ greatly. 

To help couples determine what is best for their family, however, there are several specific factors to consider as they make this decision about who should stay in their original home.

Getting back to Katy and Alex’s contention about their family home, Katy was able to see after some discussion that there could be benefits to her moving out of their home including that if she moved out, she could set up a place free of their marital disappointments and Alex’s imprint in her physical space. 

When we met again two weeks later, Katy had thought seriously about the advantages of moving out rather than staying in the home with Alex and her initial expectation that he would agree with her belief that she had a stronger right to their home than he did. Katy had signed a lease for an apartment and was set to move in a few days. 

While Alex was still heartbroken and angry, he was relieved that the discussion of him moving was over. This enabled him to negotiate future decisions with less agitation and less of a sense of powerlessness about all that was happening. In turn, he was too flexible about other decisions that turned out to be more important to Katy.

Here are five points to consider when deciding who should keep the family home:

1)  Most importantly, will either of you be able to afford to keep the family home once you are divorced? Be careful not to let your emotions hold sway over clear dollars and sense thinking!  https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/deciding-family-home-divorce/

2) What has gone on in your home? Have you and your partner been relatively peaceful though discontent or have you had screaming matches or are you somewhere in between? Think about how it would feel to you to stay in the home with whatever your history has been there.

3) Check your assumptions about who should live in your home at the door. You and your spouse likely both have fair claims to staying in the home as well as fair claims to moving out. Try to move out of your “position” about this if you find yourself having one, and request the same of your partner. Think about why you believe that you or your partner ought to or ought not stay in the family home. Make a list of pros and cons for all options — each of you staying (2 lists) and each of you going (2 lists). Are your thoughts and feelings about this based on stereotypes, other people’s opinions, or what you hold dear as your “rights”? If any of these reasons is the basis for your thinking, try to take off those thinking hats and put on one that evaluates more genuine and practical matters.

4) What would be best for your children? This consideration should be at the top of your list after whether it is affordable for either of you to keep your home. I know of a family that arranged for the mom to stay with the three young children in their initial family home. The father agreed to pay for this. This placed great stress on him financially. Ten years later when speaking with his 21-year-old son he learned that his son would have preferred to no longer live in that home where his parent’s unhappiness together had been palpable. He had negative memories there and continuing to live where that had occurred, even after his parents divorced, which was painful for him.

5) Are there other big decisions that you and your spouse disagree about that are more important to you or to him or her than this one? If there are, you might suggest that whoever has a more important other decision that they deeply want to have happen gets to have that other decision go the way they want it to and you get to choose what you want to have happen regarding your home, or vice versa.

This is a critical point: there are many significant decisions to be made in a divorce. Thinking about a team approach, both of you ideally will compromise where you have disagreements so that your family’s divorce goes as well as possible. In order to compromise though you need to understand what your priorities are. Suggesting that your partner do this as well might help the two of you work out this and other decisions most amicably.


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Dr. Joyce, Divorce Consultant, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Divorce Coach, Collaborative Divorce Facilitator, and Child Custody Evaluator.  She enjoys presenting on all of these topics and is currently writing a Book entitled Move Out, Move On, Move in: Creating a New Family After Divorce.  With compassion and useful information she supports people in all phases of divorce; find her online at drjoyce@drjoycefine.com