Friday, March 1, 2024

The Divorce Diaries: ‘We’ve Split Up, But We Can’t Afford to Move Out. I’m Trapped, Still Living With My Ex’

Although they broke up nearly a year ago, Danni is still living with an ex – her husband. She’d love to be living separately from him but, realistically, she can’t – they’re in over their head with debt, and a house, that is no longer worth what they paid for it. Danni talks us through her predicament and then we speak to a Divorce Coach who gives her advice and tells us just how widespread this issue is…

Welcome to the Divorce Diaries. In our past instalments over the last year we’ve covered everything from when you’re most likely to divorce to whether they’re contagious to whether being on the contraceptive pill can effect your chances! and have now spoken to dozens of women – including one whose husband announced he was leaving her to have an open relationship with a 19-year-old, another who was quite literally ghosted by her own husband and one who discovered the real reason her husband divorced her was because he had a baby with her SISTER.

If you have a topic you’d like to discuss, share your thoughts, experience or advice about, drop a line to [email protected].

Danni and her husband were ready for kids. They’d been talking about having them for years, but the time seemed right to start really considering it. They’d ticked off a fair few places from their travel bucket list, their careers were stable and although they didn’t have a huge amount saved, they figured they’d never feel completely ready.

“I talked to a lot of friends about it – friends who had kids too – and they said you never feel totally ready, you just have to go for it,” says Danni.

But there was one thing her husband Aaron was adamant about before they started trying – that they move into their own home.

“We’d been saving for a deposit and had an okay one – definitely with our Kiwisaver included,” says Danni. “We’d been looking for six months already, but we started getting more serious.”

They’d had a bad run of rentals – they’d had to move three times in one year because of landlords deciding to sell the house, or, in one case a flood that meant they had to move (and make a considerable home contents insurance claim).

It was 2020. The property market in Auckland was tough.

“We’d go to an open home and there’d be queues out the street,” says Danni. “We’d go to auctions for houses that we thought we could afford, and the opening bid would be above our top price.”

Then, at the start of 2021 Danni’s grandmother passed away and left her $75,000.

“It seemed to tip the scales a bit,” says Danni. “Two months later we brought a house. It was much further from the CBD (where we both work) than we planned, but it was an okay house for the price. And, it had two and a half bedrooms, meaning, we had room for a child.”

It needed a bit of work – particularly the bathroom and one of the bedrooms, so they borrowed money from family and began renovations.

But, what the pair hadn’t planned on, was their relationship crumbling under all the stress they’d endured in the last few years.

“Aaron had lost his job,” says Danni. “Covid was hard. Living in a construction zone was hard. We’d been trying for a year with no baby – something that seemed unthinkable when we were only 30.”

Unfortunately, things were about to get even tougher.

“We figured we’d sell the house and go our separate ways,” says Danni. So, they got the house valued. In the end, they got it valued by four different people and companies, because the answers they were getting, weren’t what they wanted to hear.

“Essentially, they all said house was no longer worth what we paid for it,” says Danni. “We were still in extra debt from the renovations, and if we sold the house, it would fall quite short of what we paid for it, let alone the renovations.”

Aaron and Danni decided to try their luck and put it on the market anyway.

“We ended up paying so much over its CV, that we figured other people would too,” she says.

But, when the house went to auction, there was just one bidder. They fell far short of the reserve price, which was $50,000 less than what Aaron and Dani paid. They kept it on the market, with a fixed price and after three months, they had zero offers.

Now, the pair are out even more cash, after paying to have their house marketed.

“We can’t afford to sell, and we can’t afford two rents,” says Danni. “So, we’re still living together. Thank god we have two rooms.”

Danni says they’ve tried looking for someone to rent the second room, so that at least one of them could move out, but financially, it’s still not quite working.

“We paid too much and we borrowed too much,” says Danni. “I could move out, but for the market rate of renting the room, it doesn’t come to a lot. I’d be limited in my options of where I could live, because I’d still be massively topping up the mortgage. It’s a nightmare.”

The advice Danni and Aaron have got is to wait it out for a while and see if things bounce back.

But unfortunately, Danni and Aaron’s situation is far from being unique. Divorce coach and relationship expert Bridgette Jackson says they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

“Unfortunately it has become all too common since Covid that couples who want to separate have found they cannot afford to,” she says.

Bridgette says it has become a “trend” within the last year, and while each couple’s own situation tend to be very unique – it’s affecting a large number of people, across all socio-economic groups.

“In all honesty there are not many positives in continuing to live together when a relationship is over, but there are a few beneficial reasons why former couples choose to,” Bridgette says.

She has identified these benefits as being:

  • There is the financial saving as two households often mean two lots of expenses.
  • Able to wait for house prices to increase and mortgage interest rates to decrease, avoiding what could be financial ruin for both parties.
  • They have the opportunity to budget with all costs able to be allowed for as opposed to the unknown.  Also there is the opportunity to start independent saving, if someone is not already.
  • The person moving out of the house is not pressured to find other accommodation immediately, and so not forced into a situation that could add additional stress and anxiety. 
  • A period of transition is created to plan all parts of their joined lives.  Also saved is time, stress and the expense that comes with moving, downsizing, packing and unpacking, potentially more than once for one or both people.  
  • There is time for the separation to be done thoughtfully and respectfully for the whole family.  This includes extended family and close friends.

 Often, it’s a fraught situation though, and Bridgette recommends for anyone in this situation to consider entering a ‘Separation Agreement’ of a ‘Cohabitation/Property Sharing Agreement’.

“These agreements address their new living arrangements, shared financial responsibilities, boundaries and rules of engagement and other important matters relating to their situation,” says Bridgette. “The Agreement should include separate scenario plans that include a, b and c and then becomes a guide and framework when emotions could at other times be running high.”

Bridgette recommends having someone who is neutral or independent from both parties helping to create the Agreement, which ideally should be followed up with independent legal advice.   

We’ve just brought up this topic on Capsule, and we’ve already heard from several couples who have found themselves in this situation. In the coming weeks, we’ll be bringing you their stories, plus, Bridgette will be sharing her tips for how to cohabitate with your ex.

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