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Breaking up is harder to do...

The phrase 'Live-In Divorce' was coined by New York magazine in 2008 to describe couples who have separated yet continue to share the same house. The magazine asked: "Whatever happened to the divorce scenario we used to see in the movies -- husband packs suitcase, the couple's eyes meet in pain and regret, and then, with the slam of a door, they begin learning to live apart?"

What seemed like an American phenomenon two years ago, has caught on here with a vengeance. In fact, we need a new term to describe partners who have separated. Estranged means to be alienated from but today's separating couples appear very accommodating of each other.

It's almost uncool not to be able to move your PJs out of the marital bedroom and into the spare room, and continue to get on amicably with the person you once considered your mate for life.

Think RTE star Grainne Seoige and media boss Stephen Cullinane. They holidayed together in Marbella early last month after announcing the end of their eight-year marriage, in the company of Grainne's teenage son Conall. Seoige and Cullinane were supporting each other following the public announcement of the end of their coupledom. And they are now reported to be leading separate lives from their luxury home in Rocky Valley, Co Wicklow.

An American report in March cited the increasing number of 'estranged' spouses who are waiting out the economic downturn before they divorce. So, are Irish couples also waiting for property prices to get healthier before divvying up their assets?

Couples in this situation often live as housemates by sharing expenses, food shopping, and household chores. But unlike housemates they own property together, have joint assets and sometimes even bank accounts in common.

And while their physical marriages are over, their financial affairs are still very tied. To live separately their family home would have to be sold and assets divided. So some couples see living as housemates to be a practical and savvy financial decision.

It's reported that Ronan and Yvonne Keating are living together again following Yvonne moving into Ronan's bachelor pad before the singer jetted off to Australia to be a judge on The X Factor. And before Yvonne and their children joined him Down Under. It is understood the couple, who announced their separation in May, have decided to live there together along with their children Jack (11), Marie (10) and Ali (4), while work is being done on a new house in Abington estate in Malahide.

The Boyzone singer moved out of the family home and into the upmarket apartment near Malahide Castle, after it emerged he had cheated on his wife of 11 years with dancer Francine Cornell.

Yet another new phrase has been coined to describe the growing number of couples who separate yet continue to live together -- 'separated married couples.'

Our newest separated married couple, radio DJ Mairead Farrell and her 'estranged' husband, commercial executive Eamon Fitzpatrick, are reported to have chosen to stay living at their Glasnevin home for the sake of their two-year-old son, Dara.

In spite of their decision to call it quits on their three-year marriage some months ago, the couple will continue to share a home and the parenting of their little son.

For many 'separated' couples with children, it's easy to see why this new living arrangement makes sense. The relationship between broadcaster Seoige and Cullinane reportedly hit the rocks as far back as Christmas 2008, yet it was only earlier this year that the public became aware of their separation.

So what happens to our very modern couples who separate yet continue to live together should they decide they want to divorce? The Divorce Act 1996 requires that a couple must have lived apart for at least four of the five years before proceedings are issued.

"There are couples living under the same roof who are divorced in this country, not many but there are some," says Cathy O'Brien, founder of DIY Divorce.

"It's a question we get asked all the time, 'What date can we say we separated, if we continued to live under the same roof after separating, and after we stopped living as man and wife?'" she says.

"If a couple is agreed on the date they separated, when they continued to share a house yet stopped living as a married couple, it's when their time living separately officially began.

"They will be asked by a judge to swear under oath as to the date their marriage ended, and if they are both agreed, it will be accepted," Cathy says. "I'm being asked this question more because more and more couples are finding themselves separating yet continuing to live together because of their financial arrangements.

Instead of 'estranged', should we call these modern couples 'semi-detached'?


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