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How to separate from your spouse while living together

It is possible to be separated under Australian law and still live with your partner. The Separation Guide’s data suggests that an increasing number of couples are separating and remaining living under one roof.

The law does not require you to separate from your partner physically to be able to record a date of separation. However, there are some factors that determine whether you are truly separated.

  • The intention of the parties. If you and your partner have both agreed to separate, the courts will likely consider you to be separated even if you live in the same home.
  • The conduct of the parties. If you and your partner are behaving as if you are no longer in a relationship, the courts will likely consider you to be separated. For example, living separate lives, sleeping in separate bedrooms, cooking and cleaning for yourselves, and not sharing meals.

If you have stopped living as a couple, you can choose to record a date of separation even if you are still living together.

If you are married, one year and one day past this date is the earliest the Court will allow you to apply for a divorce. If you are de facto and want to apply for a property settlement, you must do so within two years of this date.

Why are more separated couples still living together?

There are several reasons for this rising trend.

Some couples have acknowledged their relationship is not working but haven’t taken any formal steps to separate because they are unsure what they want. For these couples, the intimacy may have left the relationship, and they may have moved into separate bedrooms. These couples may not have formally recorded it themselves, but if their intention and conduct demonstrate they are separated, they may decide to record a separation date.

Some separated couples continue living under one roof due to financial constraints. These couples have agreed to separate and have begun the financial settlement process. They decide to live together until they sell or refinance their family home and the capital is released.

Some separating people may also fear that they cannot afford to live elsewhere or be financially disadvantaged if they leave.

For some couples, there is resistance to moving out due to concerns over children or because of societal expectations and stigma around what it means to leave the family home. There might be an emotional attachment to the home or beliefs about who deserves to keep it.

Wherever couples might find themselves in their separation journey, when remaining living under one roof, there is the potential for things to escalate.

Re-negotiating the relationship

People to be intentional about how their separation will work by identifying their needs, setting boundaries and inviting a conversation around this with their ex-partner and, where appropriate, extended family and friends.

Some things to consider are:

  • how you will share the space create privacy for each of you in your home
  • how you will split domestic chores
  • whether the family continue to have meals together and who will prepare them
  • how will you split care of children if you have them
  • how will you each demonstrate respect regarding your comings and goings
  • what boundaries need to be in place around inviting others into the property
  • how will you share responsibility for finances
  • who will pay the bills, the mortgage, child support, and more.

Without transparent conversations about your living arrangements, your expectations may misalign, and tensions and resentment can build. This tension can escalate things and eventually impact the chances of a more amicable separation.

These can be challenging conversations. Many former couples in this situation seek the support of a relationship counsellor to get clear on their needs, develop lower-conflict communication styles, understand and recognise when they become triggered or heightened, and learn strategies to regulate their emotions.

Bringing children into your separation

Culturally, there are many collective beliefs that parents staying together is in children’s best interests and that children from separated families have poorer outcomes. Many feel that keeping relationship issues and separation hidden from children will protect them and lessen the impact.

Most research and experts in this area speak to the contrary. Evidence demonstrates children sense discord when what they feel doesn’t match what they’re told. They can experience stress and feel unsafe as a result. Being honest with children, appropriate to their age and stage, about separation (and other significant life events) reduces confusion and supports children to feel safer and more empowered.

Find the right support professionals to guide you through your separation

Find out more about how a separation and divorce coach can assist you get through this time.


Tips for living together while separated

There are a few areas aside from the practical living arrangements that you can focus on if you are in this situation to help you overcome some of the hurdles you will encounter.

Work on effective communication

It is important to understand your own and your ex-partner’s communication styles and recognise where that could lead to conflict. Through a large body of research, psychologists Gottman and Gottman identified four communication styles that can lead to conflict in relationships. These are criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. Understanding where you might sit in these categories and learning about the alternatives can reduce the likelihood of conversations escalating into conflict.

Set Boundaries, communicate your needs and manage expectations

Establish boundaries around personal space, personal time and social interactions to allow for individual growth and independence. An important boundary to establish is around physical intimacy: a hug may be within your boundaries, but having sex with your former partner after you’ve decided to separate can lead to hurt and confusion.

Communicate what you need to your former partner and understand that their needs may have also changed since the separation. It’s important to respect each other’s desires for personal growth and self-care. Be flexible and willing to compromise to find a balance that works for both of you.

Consider setting up regular check-ins with your partner to discuss any concerns or issues that arise to ensure you are both managing your expectations.

Get to know yourself better

Ask yourself, what is motivating you to maintain or resist the status quo, and how does this impact you? Where is there attachment to the past, to possessions or to the beliefs and judgements of others, and how might this be motivating or limiting you?

Understand your emotional responses and practise strategies such as breathwork, meditation, connection to nature and movement to support you when you become triggered. This can promote responding rather than reacting in emotive situations and avoid things escalating into conflict.

Take financial responsibility

Educate yourself as to your rights and responsibilities when it comes to finances, assets and parenting and explore your options with a qualified finance coach or advisor.

Focus on your own actions and reactions

Remember that you are only in control of yourself. Focus on what you can do and what is in your control. Focusing on what you can change and shift in yourself and not on what you can change about your ex-partner is key.

Achieve a low conflict separation

Developing and implementing these strategies can allow you to feel more empowered and in control of your life and your future, reducing conflict and minimising the risk of tensions escalating and leading to a costly and protracted separation. Seeking the support of professionals to guide and educate you through the process can make all the difference.

Thank you to Kelly Luisa Bagshaw for her contribution to this post.

The Separation Guide aims to make separation and divorce simpler, more manageable and less stressful. To learn more about how one of our Network Members could support your separation, take our free three-minute Q&A.

The information in our resources is general only. Consider getting in touch with a professional adviser if you need legal, financial or well-being support.