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Live-In Divorce


But she had no right to lock him out of any part of the house unless she was in danger—in which case she'd have grounds to force him out. A call from Roger's lawyer to Laurie's scared her into taking the lock off and moving back to the den. "I felt wonderful," Roger says. "I turned it into a defeat for her."

Walking the dog every morning, Roger lectured himself to stick to his strategy. Most important, he emphasizes, was his determination to keep his kids from feeling abandoned, the way the children of his previous marriage had felt. "I'd had that pain before," he says with narrowed eyes and set jaw.

After nine months, negotiations grew fevered: Roger claimed he couldn't afford their children's private-school tuition without taking out a loan on their apartment, and Laurie refused him permission to do so; she believed this was one more trick to force her to give him the settlement he wanted. One day, having borrowed money from friends, Laurie packed a duffel bag for each child, took the dog, and flew to Chicago, where she quickly found a new school, an apartment, and a job as an office manager. She has no money and no furniture, but, she says, "I have my life back."

Roger came home to an empty apartment and waited for their return . . . and waited. Now he is suing for divorce in New York to make sure the case isn't tried under the divorce laws of another state. And Laurie is taking him to court because she says he's not paying enough child support.

Whatever the legal or financial reasons that keep divorcing people in the same house, therapists and lawyers believe there is always an emotional subtext—a "power struggle," explains therapist Olga Silverstein, senior member of the Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy, "which is acted out in the resolving of issues like 'Whose bed is this? Whose house? Whose kids?' "

Couples therapist Sonya Rhodes agrees. "Who's going to leave and who's going to stay takes on huge meaning in the aftermath of a failed relationship," she says. Every part of the divorce negotiation becomes "another example of how 'you don't want to accommodate.'

Psychotherapist Ellen Weber has seen many people use this staying-together as a time of transition, to avoid going "cold turkey." Whatever they may say, Rhodes agrees, these people prefer to "stay a married person in crisis rather than become a single person, alone."

Further complicating the emotional ground, observes divorce mediator and matrimonial lawyer Lenard Marlow, is that one partner has usually been emotionally girding himself to ask for the divorce, while the other, caught by surprise, is emotionally about eighteen months behind. The one playing catch-up tends to dig in and be unsusceptible to "reason."

But the children's situation is the real heartbreaker, says lawyer Betty Levinson, and she blames therapists as much as lawyers for this problem. "Therapists," she says, "should say to fathers, 'You are forcing your children to live in a war zone.' " Rhodes agrees that children find the tension and hostility between their parents devastating. "Even if there's not gunfire," she says, "there is some kind of guerrilla warfare," and at the least the children experience "the delayed and postponed reality that the marriage is over."

No matter what the experts believe, some couples say they are keeping themselves in limbo for the sake of their children.

That, at least, is the explanation Diane* and Kevin Lowe* give for the fact that they slept in the same bed for eighteen months after hiring lawyers. Or rather, it's the more palatable of the two reasons they give. "Leave my bed? Forget it!" Diane snaps, and Kevin confirms that he refused to move—even down the hall—without a signed agreement. They schooled themselves to sleep so that they never touched.

More important than defending turf, though, they say, was maintaining an appearance of normality for their ten- and seven-year-old sons, who, a therapist had advised, shouldn't be told about the divorce until shortly before Daddy's departure.

Trying to convey what it was like, Diane, a 40-year-old in a cashmere jacket, leans across her desk. She may be a brusque public-relations executive commanding a $75,000-a-year salary, but from time to time she crumples into quiet tears and dabs neatly behind her round tortoiseshell glasses with a tissue. Then, briskly, she continues.

She had no difficulty falling asleep, even with Kevin beside her, she says, because she used sleep as an escape. To cope at other times, she made believe that Kevin, 42, wasn't there, even when they sat opposite each other at their nightly dinner with the children, pretending that all was normal.

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