Divorce is never easy but, from conscious uncoupling to nesting, people are increasingly seeking ways to make the process of separation less painful. Minimizing disruption for the kids is often a top priority for parents, and the reality is that most couples don't have the resources to support two separate households, so they may find themselves living together through the separation, whether by choice or not. Even in relationships where there is little conflict, the transition is a difficult time.
What are best practices for living together during a separation? What happens with your finances during this limbo phase? What's the best way to announce the separation to the kids? Couples that are living together while separated can make the best of a difficult situation with the following tips.
Consider the kids
The first concern for any parent is usually the children's well being. How you tell them about the separation and what you communicate depends largely on their age, as kids have very different cognitive and emotional abilities at different stages.
For example, a pre-schooler's reasoning is fairly one-sided, so you'll need to be clear that this was an adult decision and it's not their fault. If dealing with teenagers, it's important to listen, explain and reassure. Teenagers are at a very fragile state of development, and need parents to make them feel safe, loved and understood during these difficult times.
Several families start with a rotation of the parent in charge on weekends.
Regardless of the age of the kids, it is not helpful when parents become overly lenient due to their own guilt, because children of all ages need their parents to set boundaries. What is helpful is when parents step outside of their own pain and be civil with their ex no matter what they do. Kids are like emotional sponges: they will perceive your pain and anger, and will suffer when you suffer. Look for professional resources, online or in person, about good co-parenting techniques following a separation, and how to help children deal with their own pain and insecurities.
It's a good idea to start building a parenting schedule where each parent is allocated time during the week to be alone with the children. Several families start with a rotation of the parent in charge on weekends. The parent not in charge can be absent during the day and evening depending on the ages of the kids, and availability of alternative accommodations or places to go to away from the home.
Develop a code of conduct
The issues that caused the separation will continue to exist and sometimes get worse. This includes things such as dysfunctional communication, disagreements about money, how to raise the kids or even household chores. Couples that cohabitate during the legal separation process need to rise above these old disagreements and find ways to work with each other despite fundamental differences about these issues.
Couples are encouraged to develop and agree on a code of conduct to deal with day to day issues such as: how and when to communicate, whether it be in person, by email or text; how to handle household chores, shopping for groceries and meal preparation; who is responsible for the kids' complicated calendars and appointments, etc.
Regardless of the situation, maintaining mutual respect and common courtesy is critical for getting through a separation with any measure of success. This is a temporary situation and you can make it work if you want to.
Navigate the financial landmine
Apart from the emotional turmoil, there are of course financial consequences to divorce. Searching the internet will result in confusing information about what separating spouses should do with their personal and joint finances once the separation has been announced.
The best way to navigate this complicated topic is to seek legal advice as early on in the process as possible. Each separation is unique, and you need to know the legal implications, benefits or dangers to you, your children, and your family, of maintaining or altering the accustomed method payment of the family expenses. Your lawyer will discuss options to deal with your financial concerns and how to start collecting information for your financial disclosure.
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Living together while separated may be an unenviable situation, but increasingly it is a necessity. Your team of advisors can guide you to get through the legal separation process in a way that protects your children's best interests, and help you and your spouse get through it as well as possible.
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