Is this house the answer to divorce? live together

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The Independent Online
TWO LONDON architects have come up with the ultimate solution for modern, flexible living: a "Divorced House" for couples who want to separate but keep their family intact.

The house in Brixton, south London, was designed by Deborah Saunt and David Hills, who see it as a taboo-breaking response to a dilemma that is facing an growing number of families. The open-plan detached house has a separate "duplex" apartment for each parent, each with ground-floor living space, and two upstairs bedrooms. This allows the owners' two primary- age children, who share a room, to stay with either parent, although in practice they spend most of their time with their mother.

The children have private linking routes across a roof garden and via the back doors, while the dividing walls have been sound-proofed to help to minimise problems that could arise with the arrival of new partners for their parents.

The family, who wish to keep their identity secret, had lived in the house, which had been built to their own specifications, for six years before the divorce.

But rather than move to two smaller properties, with the disruption to the children that that would entail, they decided to convert their home to fit their new living arrangements.

According to Deborah Saunt, the clients wanted to avoid any sense of compromise by creating a positive experience that gave both sides the benefits of downstairs light and space, as well as complete privacy.

"Children can be traumatised by their parents' decision to live apart, while the move to a smaller place can undermine confidence at what is already a difficult time," she said.

Ms Saunt and Mr Hills, who both lecture at Cambridge University and set up their joint practice, dsdha, 18 months ago, were initially concerned about the pitfalls of working on such a personal project.

They drew their inspiration from the crumbling mansions of Cuba, now subdivided and occupied by many families, and spent a year working through various permutations with both parents and children before hitting on an acceptable solution.

While a growing number of divorced or separated couples divide their properties informally, by putting up walls, blocking off doors or even converting them into flats, the architects say this is the first time a house has been specifically designed to meet the complex needs of a split household. For most divorced or separated couples continuing to share the same house, the huge social pressure to demonstrate a clean break by living apart means that they tend to keep quiet about the change in their circumstances. However, the architects hope their ideas will lead to greater acceptance of these domestic arrangements, as well as encourage housebuilders to use more flexible, though not necessarily expensive, designs and materials to accommodate changes in family life and size.

According to divorce lawyer Vanessa Lloyd Platt, an increasing number of former couples are continuing to share accommodation for financial, practical and emotional reasons.

Earlier this month, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and his wife, Claudia Bracchitta, were forced to reveal that, despite a disagreement over their eldest son's schooling which contributed to their marriage breakdown, they still lived under the same roof for the sake of their children.

"Those at the wealthy end of the scale have big homes which they are able to divide quite easily," said Mrs Lloyd Platt.

"Wealthy couples who feel they can no longer live together may still depend on the sense of protection and security their relationship brings, while those on lower incomes are more likely to stay together because the shortage of affordable housing means they will be worse off if they separate.

"Dividing a former family home can be beneficial for the children because they feel that they have still got both parents together. But this can get confusing if the adults get different partners in the same household."

Indeed, according to Denise Knowles of Relate, only those couples with a stable emotional relationship would be able to handle the long-term implications of the "divorced house".

She added: "I do know of couples who have managed to maintain their lifestyle by living this way but for most people the boundaries start to crumble when one of them finds a new partner."

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