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Separated but stuck under one roof: Tamara and Lionel split up six months ago but, like growing numbers of exes, they can't afford to live apart. The result Sheer hell
08:28 GMT, 10 December 2012
After 20 years of marriage, Denise and Adrian White split up two years ago.
Now, like many divorced couples, they find it impossible to be in the same room.
They communicate largely by text, although their two sons, Tyrell, 19, and nine-year-old Duvall, sometimes pass messages between the pair.
Undoubtedly many divorced couples will identify with this situation, but there’s just one crucial difference.
Tamara Harp and Lionel Lewis have separated as a couple but are still living together
The former couple, and their two children, are all still living in the same house.
Denise, 40, an insurance consultant from Dulwich, South London, ended her relationship with husband Adrian, 41, a plumber, in April 2011.
‘Adrian was my childhood sweetheart but over the years we grew apart until all we did was argue,’ she says.
Their divorce papers came through in June, but as neither has enough money to move out, they’re stuck in a painful limbo that makes everyone feel uncomfortable. ‘My nine-year-old is currently sharing a double bed with my ex-husband,’ says Denise.
It may sound extreme, but Denise and Adrian are far from alone. A new survey from housing charity Shelter found that in the past year, seven per cent — 3.6 million people — of British adults had found themselves in this distressing position.
A new survey from housing charity Shelter found that in the past year, seven per cent 3.6 million people of British adults had found themselves in this distressing position
‘Adrian and I can go months without speaking to each other, but it’s better than when we were arguing and shouting,’ says Denise.
‘At first, he was on the sofa, but after six months he said he’d had enough and wanted the bedroom. I tried the sofa but it was agony for my back, so I asked Duvall to share a room with his dad, and I am in his room.’
'Adrian and I can go months without
speaking to each other, but it’s better than when we were arguing and
shouting,' says Denise
Desperate to improve things, Denise even moved in with her mother for a few weeks, but the hour-long commute to her son’s school and then further again to work was unsustainable. She had no choice but to move back to the family home.
The only way things will change is if they can sell their three-bedroom Thirties terrace worth 250,000 and release the equity. It has been on the market, but in the current financial climate they have had little interest.
Mark Keenan, managing director of Divorce-Online, a web-based divorce service, has seen this scenario play out all over the country.
Mark Keenan, managing director of Divorce-Online, a web-based divorce service, has seen this scenario play out all over the country
‘A quarter of the couples who file for divorce with us still live together, partly as so many properties are taking time to sell,’ he says.
But it’s not just affecting home-owning families — renters are falling into the trap, too. Tamara Harp, 29, a facilities manager, shares a two-bedroom maisonette in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, with her child Sonny, 14 months, and his father Lionel, 28, despite having split up six months ago.
Their living room, once a haven for cosy nights in — and even where Lionel proposed to her — is now a makeshift bedroom.
‘My bed is the sofa and each morning I wrap up the single duvet and store it under the stairs,’ says Lionel. ‘I’m not proud of this situation and I’m working as hard as I can to change it. We have decided the relationship is over, but financially we simply have no choice but to keep on living together.’
Anyone who’s been through a relationship breakdown knows how painful it can be, as Kay Boycott, of Shelter, explains.
Having to carry on living with a person you used to be in a relationship with because you cant afford not to can have a huge impact on your lives
‘Having to carry on living with that person because you can’t afford not to has a huge impact on people’s lives. We’ve heard from couples suffering from stress and depression because they feel trapped, and the cost of housing is now so high that this problem is creeping further up the income scale.’
'We have decided the relationship is over, but financially we simply have no choice but to keep on living together'
Indeed, Tamara and Lionel are hardly on the breadline. Before Sonny was born, they had a joint income of 57,000. Holidays to the Dominican Republic and dinners out were the norm. It was a whirlwind romance; they met at work in October 2009 and by the following August, Lionel had proposed and they were living together.
‘He was so romantic — we went to a cottage in the Isle of Wight one Valentine’s Day and I woke up to a room decked with flowers and candles,’ Tamara recalls. ‘Of course, like any couple, we had arguments but we were very happy.’
In January 2011, they discovered they were expecting their first child.
‘We were delighted, but before we knew it the day-to-day stuff got on top of us and we started to argue more,’ says Lionel. ‘Then the pressure of having a newborn, paying bills and Tamara being on maternity leave became too much. A gulf grew between us and it became impossible to bridge.’
Financially, things had changed, too, as they had decided that Tamara would stay at home with Sonny, leaving Lionel as the sole breadwinner.
Relate counsellor Christine Northam says, The process of separation is like a lingering death; you just want it to be over to get rid of the pain.
It was on a make-or-break holiday to the Isle of Wight last June that they realised it was over. ‘We had a huge row about where to sit on the ferry and didn’t talk for the whole journey. It couldn’t go on, so we came to a mutual decision to end it,’ says Tamara.
It was agreed Tamara would stay at the family home and Lionel would move out, but they discovered it wasn’t financially feasible.
‘We had only recently signed a new 12-month tenancy agreement and after paying rent and bills, there was nothing left for a second rent, let alone money for a deposit and furniture,’ says Lionel. ‘I couldn’t run two houses.’
‘It used to be a happy, noisy house, but it’s now very quiet,’ says Lionel. ‘We don’t ask friends over, as it’s too awkward’
Six months on, the couple are still struggling to find a way to move on.
‘This is a toxic situation,’ says Relate counsellor Christine Northam. ‘The process of separation is like a lingering death; you just want it to be over to get rid of the pain.’
Each night, as soon as Sonny is in bed, Tamara retreats to the bedroom she and Lionel once shared so they don’t have to cross paths.
‘I’m often asleep by 8.30pm, as there is nothing else to do. Once Lionel is home, the atmosphere changes.’
‘It used to be a happy, noisy house, but it’s now very quiet,’ says Lionel. ‘We don’t ask friends over, as it’s too awkward.’
‘We are careful to be civil and put on a front when Sonny is around,’ says Tamara. ‘Right now, he is a happy baby, but we know this has to be resolved before he gets older and starts asking questions.’
Experts agree the only way for anyone to get through such a stressful time is to accept the relationship is over and change the way you see that person.
For Lucy Smith, 33, an assistant manager from Embsay, North Yorkshire, working out how to manage separate lives was the only way to cope when her relationship ended late last year.
‘After two years of marriage, it became clear we weren’t right for each other,’ says Lucy. ‘We argued too much and the love had faded away.’
Lucy and Kevin, 37, a roofer, owned their house together and realised neither could afford to move out while they still had a mortgage to pay.
‘He did have another small house he had inherited, but it had a long-term tenant in so wasn’t an option at that point. I looked at renting, but I couldn’t do that and still pay half the mortgage,’ she says.
Experts agree the only way for anyone to get through such a stressful time is to accept the relationship is over and change the way you see that person
Lucy and Kevin agreed to live as flatmates while the situation was resolved.
‘We were treading on eggshells, but we tried to be amicable. We had two bedrooms but only one bed. In the first few weeks, we even shared that. Eventually, I bought a single bed and slept in the spare room.’
Meanwhile, she tried to avoid being at home as much as possible.
Lucy was quick to change her routine. ‘I got up at 6am every day to go swimming before work,’ she says. ‘Then, in the evening, I would meet friends or see my gran and then go back to my room.’
Now, with the tenants finally out of his inherited house, Kevin has moved out, leaving Lucy alone in the marital home.
‘It’s such a relief to have my own space again,’ she says.
Even for Lionel and Tamara, things are improving. For now, the arguing has stopped.
‘It sounds harsh, but you’ve got to really care to argue and we’ve gone past that point,’ says Tamara. ‘But it still breaks my heart that it has come to this.’
‘It’s easiest when we see less of each other,’ agrees Lionel. ‘But at the minute, it’s just about surviving. I hope we can eventually both move on.’