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Not Quite Divorced: When Your Financial Affairs Are Still Married

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We have all known couples whose marriages are basically over but, who, for the sake of their children, stayed together. They are not legally separated in the traditional manner and they are willing to forego a divorce to stay together as a family unit. It is a workable arrangement for all.

But what about couples who have adult children or no children at all? Why would they stay together in the netherworld of the "not-quite-divorced?"

Over the past few years there has been a growing population of couples whom sociologists classify as separated/married couples. These couples have jointly decided to live separate lives but to live those lives in the same house.

Like roommates, they have separate checking and savings accounts and share all expenses related to the running and maintaining of the household. Unlike most roommates they own property together, have joint assets, and a business bank account in common. For all intents and purposes, while their physical marriages are over, their financial affairs are still very much married.

Why do these couples stay together if they want to live separate lives? The answer is for purely practical reasons: Money and assets. Many have built mini-empires together. Besides their main residence they may also own a summer home and rental property. A legal divorce would severely cost them financially. Properties would have to be sold and assets divided. They see living as house mates a practical, savvy venture. At one of my lifestyle seminars, a woman in her fifties said:

"We were married thirty years before we decided to live separate lives. I was all for a divorce and so was he but our accountant gave us two financial scenarios. Divorced, we would lose money. By staying together, we got to keep more of our funds and our health insurance coverage as a married couple. Tax breaks for married people certainly beat those for singles. We're also looking at the long-term situation with pensions and retirement funds. Do we lead separate lives? We live in different sections of the house and have separate keys. I should think that says it all."

Another couple told me they stay together because they run a business and have extensive financial dealings that would suffer if they got a divorce. They live together and share everything but intimacy.

"In a way we're a lot like college dorm mates with one major rule: Individual privacy is to be highly respected."

"Separated/married" couples living together is a lot more common than anyone realizes but the situation in 2010 is certainly nothing like the arrangements of 50 years ago especially for women.

In the past, a woman who no longer had anything left in her relationship, stayed with a husband for financial security. She usually had no job outside that of homemaker and no money of her own. These women were miserable but they literally had very little choice since their very existence depended upon their husbands.

By contrast, today's couples choose to live together because they are money-wise as well as practical. Each partner is certainly more than able to support themselves, but they want to preserve what they acquired together, and refuse to jeopardize extensive co-owned financial holdings.

Another plus in today's arrangement is the fact that the option to leave the relationship is open. Neither person feels forced to stay because of dependency. This set-up works. It is certainly better, and emotionally healthier, than staying with someone simply because they hold the purse-strings!

Interestingly enough, the twenty-first century may have spawned a new kind of relationship: practical and financially lucrative.

To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at Kristen Houghton.com and visit her Keys to Happiness blog. Also, take a look inside her book, "And Then I'll Be Happy!" You may e-mail her at
kch@kristenhoughton.com.