5 Thoughtful Ways To Decide Who Should Move Out When Getting Divorced

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couple deciding who should move out
Heartbreak

In a divorce, who should move out? This is a question many families going through this major life change often ask.

Katy and Alex (not their real names) came into my office to discuss the state of their marriage. Katy wanted to divorce and was ready to separate. She was very frustrated with Alex.

Meanwhile, Alex 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.

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In the 1960s and 1970s, divorce became more commonplace than it had been before. At that time, fathers stereotypically had less time with their children than many contemporary fathers do now.

We understand the importance of all family relationships much better today than we did 30 years ago. Back then 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?

To determine what's best for the family, here are 5 important factors to consider on who should move out.

1. Answer the question, "Can you afford to keep the house?"

Most importantly, will either of you be able to afford to keep the family home once you're divorced?

Be careful not to let your emotions hold sway over clear dollars and sensible thinking!

2. Determine what's been going 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 for 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 for staying in the home as well as fair reasons for 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 to stay in the family home. Make a list of pros and cons for all options — each of you staying (two lists) and each of you going (two lists).

Are your thoughts and feelings about this based on stereotypes, other people’s opinions, or what you hold firmly as your "rights?"

If any of these reasons is the basis for your thinking, try to look beyond them and evaluate the circumstances with a more genuine and practical eye.

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4. Consider what's best for your children.

Considering your children's needs and feelings should be at the top of your list, after whether it's 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 family home. The father agreed to pay for this. But, 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 had been palpable.

He had negative memories of the house, and continuing to live where they'd occurred, even after his parents divorced, was very painful for him.

5. Find out what other big decisions you and your spouse disagree about that are more important than this one.

If there are any, you might suggest that whoever has something that they deeply want is allowed to have that, if you get to choose what happens to the house, 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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If a family is able to keep their family home when a divorce occurs, there's 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. The relationships between individuals and families and their homes, between parents and children, and their financial details — they all differ greatly.

Getting back to Katy and Alex’s contention about their family home, after some discussion, Katy was able to see that there could be benefits to her moving out of the house.

For example, 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. Her initial expectation that she had a stronger right to their home than he did had diminished.

Katy 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 out 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 flexible about other decisions that turned out to be more important to Katy.

This back and forth about the individual circumstances is what a good faith divorce can look like. 

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Dr. Joyce, Divorce Consultant, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Divorce Coach, Collaborative Divorce Facilitator, and Child Custody Evaluator. With compassion and useful information, she supports people in all phases of divorce. Find her online at drjoyce@drjoycefine.com.