There are some fascinating topics related to divorce swimming out there in the electronic world. And one we just saw is a new phenomenon where couples are deciding it’s over in every sense except the official one called divorce.

There are some factors contributing to this. The first is the high cost of housing. You and your unhappy mate are occupying 2,500 square feet with three bedrooms and a fair market value of $600,000. You each look around and see that if you split up, there is almost nothing on the market for $300,000, let alone two $300,000 dwellings.

The other thing today is that we are not the same kind of social animals we once were. A decade ago, it would still be unthinkable to live with a spouse you don’t want anymore. The neighbors would talk. The office would ask why your spouse wasn’t at the company picnic or holiday party. Your close friends would still be inviting you for dinner and expecting you might reciprocate.

We have become insular animals. Many people don’t have a clue who their neighbors are. Employer sponsored “events” are in decline in a day when you are 3 days remote and 2 “on site.” And if you show up at a neighborhood event without the spouse, if you say he/she is “out of town” or visiting his daughter, no one even seems to care.

So, why not just park in the 2,500 square feet and share expenses until something better comes along? Not an unfair question but as we all know, simple answers have a tendency to experience “complications.”

You decide the “separated but equal” route is the way to go. Household expenses are $4,000 a month. You will each put $2,000 in a joint account and pay bills from it. You will date as you wish but it will be discrete, and the house is off base as a dating venue as is the club or any restaurant or public venue within 25 miles. Accounts will be segregated except for the common household account.

All good, until it isn’t. One day estranged spouse comes home and says there is a layoff.  Six weeks of severance and a kiss on the cheek. You rightly ask, “What next?” The response is “I don’t know, I just got laid off.”  You watch as the common household account declines. The mortgage is due April 1 and they don’t take half payments. You could make the whole payment but that is really going to make the other bills tight or impossible for you. You start badgering about how many jobs your “non-ex” applied for and whether he’s trying hard enough. We all know those inquiries will be warmly received, right? So, when do you shut it down and let the property go into foreclosure or stop insuring the cars you each drive? No good answers there. Realize it is illegal to drive without insurance and if there is an “occurrence” you are both now uninsured such that all your assets are exposed.

That’s one form of catastrophe. Suppose the unemployed spouse has a health emergency. There was COBRA coverage until he stopped paying. Now, he is injured in a pile up without auto or health insurance. The bill is $25,000. Under the doctrine of necessities, the health care providers can sue you as a spouse required to contribute to these uninsured bills. Your house has declined in value by $50,000 because the ever-vigilant real estate community saw the foreclosure in the local paper. Your once productive albeit unworthy spouse now becomes depressed or suffers a stroke. Now, his earning capacity is gone and if you choose to divorce him he will claim alimony based on his disability.

This can’t happen right? Wrong. It has happened and when your now disabled spouse sues you for support, alimony and a division of property it won’t look pretty when you suggest “We separated years ago but just never divorced.” And all of these bad things will not cure a mortgage foreclosure or serve as a defense to the hospital’s claim for medical services.

This makes you so depressed you have a stroke and die. The good news is that you had written out a will that said “All to my sister in Pasadena and none to the lazy lout.” Alas, the house remains joint and so it goes to your spouse (the lout) by operation of law. And the 401(K) into which you dutifully stashed $350,000 over the years for the golden years ahead now becomes his as well. Your will means nothing nor does your notarized change of beneficiary form naming your sister that you signed in 2021. Sis will get the assets in your name alone but anything jointly held typically goes to the surviving spouse. Some of this changes if you file for divorce and establish grounds. But then again, you didn’t file for divorce.

If your staycation involves sharing residence with someone you no longer enjoy, spend some money, and get an agreement that says if a spouse loses a job the property will be instantly put on the market until sold and whoever covers another spouse’s expenses will be reimbursed when the sale takes place. The spouse who can’t cover his/her half must invade retirement if contributions fall short and if one party sues to enforce, every nickel of counsel fees to enforce the agreement must be paid by the spouse whose contributions fell short. If you can’t get these terms in writing, it probably is time to bite the bullet and file for divorce, accepting the fact that you may have to live in a shoe for a time. Better that than death by the thousand cuts I just described. A shoe is not a comfortable place to reside but it beats having the mortgage company give you the boot in foreclosure.