Let’s say you’ve been together with your partner for a long time. All of a sudden you decide to call it quits. Who gets what? It’s an almost overwhelming task on all fronts – financial, emotional, and household wise. Since we can’t legally marry, the financial end is much less cut and dry than a straight couples would be. That only adds to the difficulty of parting ways and divvying up the house.
I can’t speak to this whole breakup thing personally. Kim was my first love and we’re still tremendously happy together over 15 years later. I never dated another woman and the few short-term boyfriends I had because I thought I should want to have a boyfriend at the time never amounted to anything but college age romance and companionship. All I needed to navigate the split was a good friend to listen to me complain and a few drinks.
What prompted me to think about this topic however was the news this weekend that our best friends were breaking up after 14 years together. Stunned and sad, I was the first to ask the inevitable question, “Who gets the cats?” And a myriad of other questions we chose to leave unspoken popped into our minds. I mean how do you undo a loving home you created for so long?
As I see it you’ve got the following main areas to figure out how to deal with:
- emotional and relationship logistics
This is a tricky one because of the legal ramifications of not being married yet being able to own joint property as a couple. As I see it (and I’m not financial professional), if you own things jointly in the eyes of the law you need to split it up. For instance, if you both own the house you either need to sell and split the proceeds or someone needs to buy the other one out. Otherwise, you’re left to your own devices. You need to rationally look at who is entitled to what. For those keeping finances separate, it will come in handy at this point. The key point is — rationally and fairly. Depending on the nature of the breakup this could be harder than you might like.
Emotional and Relationship Logistics
Clearly breakups bring intense emotions. Even if you part on good terms, you can’t deny the years spent together. I realize the catholic church tries to do this with married folks through annulments, but let’s be honest here — how can you just erase a part of your life? You need to not only care for your own emotions but manage the relationship logistics with your now ex-partner as well as friendships you made as a couple. How do those friendships made as a couple look after the breakup? Do you stay friends? Let them go? All depends on the people involved. Messy at best but then again when were emotions ever cut and dry? In some communities the lesbian and gay circles run so small it is imperative you agree on some ground rules or you’re bound to run into each other at every turn or constantly step on each other’s toes.
Anyone who has ever moved knows how much crap we can accumulate. Even if you are organized and fairly clutter free there is still a lot of stuff associated with being in a house. Who gets what? All I can remember with respect to this sort of split is the scene in St. Elmo’s Fire where Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson split up the CD collection. Fraught with emotion and pettiness, but it certainly captures the moment.
If you created a family together with children, you now have a number of legal mazes to walk. I have no expertise or experience but what I do know is that it can differ by state and also differs according to who is consider legal guardian(s) of the child. This is probably one of the most difficult arrangements you need to work out. And, unless you have a great dual parenting relationship that is supportive, there won’t be any child support forthcoming from a legal standpoint as Nina discussed recently.
Pets are our furry children. In many households like my own, they rank right up there as children. Who should get the pets? Do you split up multiple pets? Do you let one partner choose? Do you share them? Never an easy choice either.
About the only thing I know for sure is that the single best resource out there for navigating divorce from the inside out is Debbie Ford’s book Spiritual Divorce. While it uses language of divorce and traditional marriage, I know firsthand from having read the book and being coached through the process (which can be used for changing your relationship to anyone or anything, not just a marriage) it totally applies to gay and lesbian couples.
How about you dear readers? What has been your personal experience?