March 9, 2012

Why selling the house can buy long-term gains

By Peter Jones, Partner

I read with some disquiet a feature by Daisy Goodwin in the Sunday Times on how her  acquaintances, dubbed as ‘Squeezed Middles’ (ten years married, relatively good careers and two children) are living together but apart under the same roof in spite of an irretrievable breakdown in their marriage.   

As a father and family law specialist who has witnessed with clients the fall out of such situations, the idea of couples stubbornly clinging onto a pile of bricks and mortar at a time when attempting to build bridges with their more often than not traumatised children – is abhorrent.  

Irrespective of the fact that Ms Goodwin’s acquaintances may be reluctant to sacrifice their respective lifestyles and fork out according to her astronomical London rents to live apart, I fail to understand how any parents in this situation can justify the mortgage as a reason to tolerate at best or loathe each other at worst – an environment permeated by unhappiness and negativity.  

Who do they think they are kidding? Certainly not their children who absorb and react to every nuance of the tension and unhappiness and soon become as miserable as their parents.

Children see the world in black and white and if their emotional well-being is of paramount importance, it is vital that disenchanted parents make short-term sacrifices to achieve long-term gains for the benefit of their children. 

In our role as family law specialists we would recommend the following solutions to our clients:

  1. Recognise that action must be taken as soon as both parties admit the marriage is over
  2. Step outside the situation and seek an alternative solution. Borrow to rent so one of you can move out – even if it means giving up aspects of your lifestyle, such as holidays, meals out or weekends away – which you have hitherto taken for granted.  
  3. Explore the option of one of you staying with parents as an interim measure
  4. Cut your losses when realising the value of your house – breaking even and moving on may not bring financial savings but it will save on the stress levels and heartache    

When it comes to the actual divorce process we would encourage the benefits of mediation and collaborative family law – both of which are highly successful, alternative approaches to resolving issues arising from separation and avoid the trauma of courts.  

Various options therefore exist for those for whom the ‘together forever’ dream has been shattered; staying together for the sake of the mortgage could drive a wedge through the already fragile family unit.  Whilst the majority of household jobs can be fixed with a modicum of DIY, creating emotional scars for children could ultimately be irreparable.