There was a time when moving in with your significant other or partner before you married them was enough to get tongues wagging and eyebrows raising. These days, cohabitation isn’t just common; it’s the norm.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 15% of 25- to 34-year-olds live with a partner they aren’t married to – up from around 10% 10 years ago and 0.2% 50 years ago. Meanwhile, the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who live with a spouse has fallen from 81.5% in 1968 to 40.3% in 2018.
Although some cohabiting couples do end up getting married, not all do. Some are perfectly content never to walk down the aisle, while others end up breaking up.
If you’re in the midst of breaking up with a person you either currently live with or lived with until very recently, you’re likely aware that it’s a unique, challenging situation. Parting ways with someone you’ve shared a home and a life with involves more than handing them a box of their stuff and saying goodbye.
How to Start Over Financially After a Breakup of a Long-Term Relationship
In some ways, splitting up with a partner you live with but aren’t married to can be more complicated than getting a divorce. When married couples divorce, they have a legal process to follow – one that often involves mediation or the participation of a neutral third party to help the divorcing couple come to an agreement and find a way forward that works for both of them.
Moving on from a long-term, live-in relationship means not only giving yourself space to grieve and grow but also finding a way to reassess your financial situation and start over.
Depending on your income status before your breakup, there might be a considerable shift in how you manage your finances and budget as you move on. Unlike a divorced person who might get alimony from their ex, a never-married person has to go it alone.
The process might be uncomfortable, if not painful at times, but here’s what you can do to pick yourself up and get back on track — emotionally and financially — after a breakup.
1. Give Yourself Space
Agreeing to have a quiet, no-contact period with your former partner right after the breakup is one of the best things you can do for your emotional health. Although saying that you’ll both be friends can seem like it will soften the blow, trying to do so early on can be more challenging than it’s worth.
Pick a time frame – such as 30, 60, or 90 days – and agree not to communicate with each other during that period. If the final days of your relationship pushed you to a breaking point, you might want to make the no-contact period even longer, such as six months or a year.
Once upon a time, when you broke up with someone, all you had to do to cut off contact was stop seeing them and stop answering their phone calls. Thanks to social media, giving yourself a clean break and space to grieve after a breakup can be a bit trickier today.
If you’re friends with or follow your ex on social media, either unfollow or unfriend them or mute them for the agreed-upon silent period. The last thing you want is a reminder of your ex and the good times you had together popping up on your feed. You also don’t want to see notifications if they start a new relationship.
Since some social networks like to show you old posts to stir up nostalgia, it can also be worth your while to delete any pictures or posts on your accounts that feature or mention your ex. Depending on how you’re feeling, you might want to ask a close friend to take over your account and delete things for you rather than wade through all those memories yourself.
2. Make Some Decisions
Before you cut off contact with your ex, take the time to make some choices about how you’ll divide up shared belongings and assets. How complicated this decision-making process is largely depends on how enmeshed your lives and financial details were. Some of the decisions you and your ex might find yourselves facing include:
Who Will Move
How you handle your living arrangement after your breakup depends on whether you and your partner owned your house or apartment together, just one of you owned it, you were on a lease together, or only one person’s name was on the lease.
If just one person’s name is on the lease, they can remain in the home while the other moves out, provided they can afford the rent on their own. A similar situation applies if one person owns the property on their own.
If you’re both on the lease, you share legal responsibility for paying rent and following the lease terms. You might want to speak to your landlord to find out what your options are. They might let you move out or break the lease as long as you find someone else to move in, or they might expect you to continue to pay rent on the property until the term is over. If one of you can afford the rent on your own, it might be in your best interests to have that person remain in the house or apartment until the lease is over.
When you own a home together, things might actually be simpler to resolve. One person can buy the other out if they have the resources, or you can sell the house and split the proceeds. With the latter option, you both get a fresh start after the relationship ends.
Who Gets What
When you first moved in together, you might have jumped at the chance to buy new furniture and home goods. Maybe you had a massive wish list on Amazon. Now, you’re finding yourself trying to decide who gets to keep the couch and who can take the mattress.
The first thing to do is agree that whatever you brought into the relationship, you get to take with you. If you owned the couch before you met your ex, then it’s yours.
Next, make a list of any items you owned together, such as household goods and furniture. If you have pets, you can include them on the list too.
Once you get to shared items, start with the things that have little emotional or sentimental value. You can split things up by monetary value or by use. For example, if they get to keep a $500 chair, you can keep a $200 desk and a $300 dresser. If they work from home and have more need for a desk, then they can have it, while you get to keep the TV if you watch more movies and TV than they do.
If you’re fighting over any big-ticket items, the best thing to do might be to sell them and split the sale price between the two of you. This gives you both the chance to start over with new belongings.
Deciding who gets to keep the pets can be difficult, especially if you both love them. There might be practical considerations that influence your decision; for instance, the person remaining in the house gets to keep the cat, who gets over-stressed if he has to move, or the person with the more flexible schedule gets to keep the dog.
Another option is to share custody of your pets, but keep in mind that it’s often best to make a clean break with your ex. It can be hard to move on with your life when you have to bring the dog over to their house for weekend visits. Consider joint pet custody as a last resort – an option to consider only if you can’t agree on anything else.
How to Split Up Shared Financial Accounts
Although some live-in couples decide to keep their finances completely separate, it’s not uncommon for people to set up joint bank accounts and joint credit cards. Some people get car loans together. If you and your ex share some accounts, the best thing to do is close them after your breakup.
In the case of a shared checking or savings account, figure out who gets what before you visit the bank to close it. If you both contributed the same amount to the account, dividing the balance in half is the easiest way to go. If you contributed unequal amounts, your best option is to examine how much each of you put into the account and try to distribute what remains in the most equitable way possible.
If you’re having trouble agreeing on how to divide your accounts, look for a mediator who works with couples who are splitting up but who weren’t married. Having a neutral third party offer their advice when you don’t see eye to eye with your ex can help move the process along and create a solution that works for everyone.
When you close the bank account, make sure you update your direct deposit information with your job and any automatic payment accounts. You don’t want to run the risk of hurting your credit because you end up missing a bill or two after you close the account.
In the case of shared credit cards, what you do with them after a breakup depends on how you shared the card. Authorized users can use credit cards but don’t have any responsibility for the debt on the cards. If your partner was an authorized user on your cards and you were on theirs, the simplest option is to remove each other from your accounts.
If you’re joint credit card holders, then you’re both responsible for the charges made on the card. Joint credit card accounts are pretty rare these days. Most card companies go the authorized user route. If you’re sure that you and your ex are sharing an account, the best thing to do is close it after paying off the balance in full. That way, your ex can’t go on a shopping spree that you end up having to pay for.
In the case of shared car loans, things can be a bit tricky. If you and your ex are co-borrowers on the loan, you’re equally responsible for repaying it. You can decide that the person keeping the car assumes responsibility for the loan, which can mean refinancing it. If they don’t have a great credit score, it can be difficult to refinance
Another option is to sell the car and use the proceeds to pay down the loan. Depending on the amount left on the car loan and the car’s value, both you and your ex might end up paying out of pocket to fully pay off the car loan after the sale.
Along with physical items, you might find that you and your former partner share a lot of subscriptions, such as a Hulu or Netflix account. The best thing to do is to cancel those shared accounts and start fresh with individual ones.
If you had a subscription account in your name only, you don’t have to go to the trouble of canceling it and starting over. Breakups are hard enough; you don’t want to have to erase your watch list and recommendations too. Instead of deleting your account in the event of a breakup, change the password. It’s a good idea to change your passwords on pretty much everything after your split, even accounts that your ex didn’t have access to.
3. Examine Your Financial State
Whether you and your ex have similar incomes or one of you earns considerably more than the other, one thing is for sure: Your financial state will change after a breakup. If you both work, you’ll be going from two incomes to one. If you didn’t work outside the home during your relationship, you might have to hustle to get an income source.
And depending on how you and your former partner worked things out during your relationship, you might find yourself having no idea how to manage money. Your partner might have been the one to deal with budgeting or setting personal finance goals.
Whether you’ve got money smarts already or need some help, your breakup gives you a clean slate – a chance to start over financially. The first thing to do is to take stock of your situation. Gather together:
- Your bank statements
- Your pay stubs or other proof of income
- Your bills
- Your credit report
You want to get a sense of your net worth, income, regular expenses, and overall credit. Looking at your credit report also helps you spot any red flags or concerns, such as an account your ex might have opened in your name without telling you (it happens).
Next, get to work on creating a budget for yourself. This can be done with a service like Tiller or by hand yourself. List your post-breakup expenses, including your rent or mortgage payments, your monthly debts, and other payments you’ll have to make regularly, such as your water or electricity bill. Add in variable expenses, such as food and entertainment, as well as your savings goals.
Compare your expenses to your monthly income and consider making cuts as needed. You might need to find a cheaper place to live or consider getting a roommate, for example. You can reach out to friends who have been through similar experiences to find out what they did and how they dealt with money management at the end of a long-term relationship.
Now’s the perfect time to start thinking about your financial goals. Maybe you always wanted to buy a house, but your former partner was against the idea. Maybe you spent the past few years of your relationship focusing on paying off your partner’s loans, and the breakup gives you a chance to focus on paying down your own student loans or using your money for something you love.
4. Set Priorities
Depending on how catastrophic your breakup was, you might find yourself standing in the rubble of your relationship, unsure of what to do next. You might have to start over completely, or there might be only a few things you need to adjust before you can go about living your best life.
To help you figure out where to start and what to focus on first, take some time to identify your priorities. Think about what you need to do to get on with life over the next week or the next month, and then think about what can wait for a few months or even longer.
Some issues that might require your immediate attention include:
- Finding New Insurance. If you were on your partner’s health insurance plan, you need to get a new policy ASAP. Losing coverage because of separating from your partner qualifies you for a special enrollment period. Depending on your income, you may be able to get a subsidized plan from the HealthCare.gov marketplace, which can help make insurance more affordable. Keep in mind how much health care you use or need when purchasing a plan. If you only see your doctor for preventative care, you can most likely purchase a plan with less coverage or a higher deductible and lower monthly premium.
- Getting a Bed. When it comes to stocking your new place with furniture on a limited budget, a bed is the best place to start. You need somewhere to sleep, and you can also use it for relaxing during the day until you can get more furniture.
- Setting Up Your Own Accounts. If you had a shared cell phone plan, it’s time to switch to a new one, taking your number with you. Sprint typically has some great deals for people who move their numbers. The same is true of your Internet provider, electricity, and other utilities. Some accounts are more important than others. For example, if you have a phone plan, you might be able to hold off on setting up Internet service for a while.
- Changing Your Address. Let the post office know to forward your mail, then go about changing your address at work, with your bank, with the IRS, and so on.
- Stocking Your Kitchen and Bathroom. If you’re the one who moved out, you might be surprised at the amount of stuff you need to buy to make your kitchen and bathroom functional. Make a list of things you use daily and can’t do without, such as dish soap, hand soap, cleaning products, laundry detergent, trash bags, spices, flour, toilet paper, paper towels, and a water filter. Going the store brand or generic route can help you save money as you stock your new home; another option is to try a direct-to-consumer company specializing in affordable household essentials, such as Brandless.
- Changing the Beneficiaries on Your Accounts. If your ex is the beneficiary on your retirement or insurance accounts, change that sooner rather than later. If you’re not sure who to name instead of your ex, some options include a niece or nephew, a sibling, or even a parent.
5. Start Rebuilding
The breakup is over, you’ve muted or unfollowed your ex, and you’ve found a new place to live. What’s next?
After a split, there’s really nowhere for you to go but up. Start the rebuilding process, but do it on your own terms. That means giving yourself time to figure out who you are and what you want from your life. Don’t feel pressured to jump back into dating if you’re not ready.
Rebuilding also means thinking about what led to the breakup and what you can do to avoid those issues in the future. You might consider finding a therapist to discuss any concerns you have and to help you put together a plan for your life going forward.
Rebuilding after a breakup also means taking some risks. Maybe there’s a hobby you’ve always wanted to try but never had the chance to, such as learning to dance or play an instrument. Maybe you want to start going to the gym more or eating healthier. You might get a new job or change careers. Now is the time to try new things and learn more about what makes you happy.
Most people will experience a breakup at some point in their lives, whether it’s a split from a long-term, live-in partner or the dissolution of a short-term relationship. The longer you’re with someone, and the more enmeshed your lives become, the more challenging it is to part ways.
Breakups are hard, but they’re sometimes necessary. Your breakup might signal the end of your relationship, but it also signals the start of the next chapter of your life. It’s up to you to write that chapter in the best way possible.