Moving On: Moving Out After a Breakup or Divorce

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Ending a relationship, whether it’s three months or three decades old, is a difficult process – one often made even more difficult when you live with the person you’re leaving. Each post-relationship move-out has its own challenges: if you have children or pets with the person, you must consider them in your preparations; if the decision was mutual, you need to divide up your property; if you’re married, you’ll need to find a lawyer.

Though each move is nuanced and unique, there are a few best practices for moving out after a breakup or divorce. We consulted experts in the field, from family law attorneys to relationship therapists to people who have experienced a post-divorce move themselves. Here are their recommendations for the best ways to move out after a breakup or divorce:

See a Breakup Coming? Be Prepared

If you know in advance that a breakup is brewing, prepare early. “If you know ahead of time that a break up is likely on the horizon, gather your most important documents (i.e. birth certificate, passport, social security card, banking information, etc.),” says Relationship Therapist Tori Buckley. “Hide [these items] somewhere easily accessible, or store them in your car or at a trusted friend/family member’s house.” This is especially important if you’re leaving a partner who has anger issues or a history of lashing out.

Have a Safe Space to Crash After You Move Out

Finding a safe, comfortable place after you move out is essential. Instagram influencer Lana Rynty knows this well. She followed her boyfriend from her home in Finland all the way to Israel – only to realize that she’d moved to a place where she didn’t even speak the language for an ultimately failing relationship. She learned her lesson and has some good advice: “Find your place ASAP. Stay on someone’s couch if you need to, but having your place will save you from extra stress (and whoever is hosting you from unnecessary drama).” If you’re ending your relationship on poor terms, you may consider not telling your ex where you’re going – the last thing you need is your ex showing up to have it out with you at the home of your friend who’s gracefully letting you crash on their couch.

Read the Room, and Plan Your Move Out Accordingly

Is the move out going to a peaceful parting of the ways? Or do you expect yelling and fighting over who keeps what? While you can never totally predict how it will go down, having even a strong indication of how your move will go will help you plan accordingly. There are a few scenarios you may want to consider:

  • Stealth Exit: Marriage & Family Therapist Laura Ryan counsels, “If you have ended a relationship with an abusive partner, consider a ‘stealth move out.’ Let the person think that you are taking a break and staying elsewhere, but move out a little at a time and take things that are not visible at first, boxes on a top shelf, items in the garage, clothes in the back of a closet, or toiletries inside of a bathroom drawer. This way, most things will be gone before your ex is alerted to the fact that you are leaving them.”
  • Clean Break: If you need to get it done and over with, Ryan coaches,“Consider paying movers to come, pack your things, and take everything in one fell swoop. Take a weekday off from work and have them move out all of your belongings while your ex is gone for the day. This is the most efficient option and creates a clean break from the other person without awkward conversations, weird energy, or a prolonged move out.”
  • Mutual Breakup: In some cases, a relationship ends on good – or at least mutual – terms. For this situation, Health & Wellness Expert Caleb Backe has some advice: “Coordinate with your ex. While you two may not communicate well, it’s crucial to plan your move so that there’s no conflict.”

Have Kids or Pets? Decide Where They’re Going

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of a family parting ways is deciding how to do so with children or pets. With children and co-owned pets, you should always seek legal counsel – not doing so puts you at risk of losing custody in the long run. Once you’ve figured out who your kids and fur-kids are going to, it’s important to maintain a routine for them. Meghan Freed, a Family Law Attorney, stresses the importance of this: “If children are involved, it is important to help them maintain a sense of normalcy. Their possessions, activities and schedules should remain familiar to them, even if they’re now splitting time between two homes. Parents should enforce the same guidelines in both homes whenever possible to show a sense of unification.”

If you’re leaving an abusive or negative relationship, it’s particularly important to find legal counsel, as they will help you get legal custody of your children. For pets, you can do the same, but Buckley also recommends fostering if you don’t have time to find legal counsel: “Pets can often be a reason people don’t leave an abusive partner. There are programs that offer temporary homes for pets surviving domestic violence.”

Don’t Handle Moving Out After a Breakup Alone

Whether you’re coordinating a stealth move out or a cooperative separation from your partner, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Kristen Edens is a content developer and has undergone a “gray divorce” (a divorce over the age of 50). From her experience, she recommends having friends to help you with your move (emotionally and physically): “Invite friends or a support group to help [with your move]. The more hands available, the faster the task is completed.”

Kristen’s advice is echoed by Danielle C., a Seattleite who used Dolly to help move out after her divorce and furnish her new home: “I have great friends and family–and Dolly let me Iean on them in the ways that matter most: love, affirmation, and supporting my two amazing kiddos.”

When in Doubt, Seek Legal Help for Your Post-Divorce Move Out

If there are children, pets, or joint assets involved, you’ll likely need legal help, but it might be safe to find a family lawyer just in case. Oz Moving & Storage, a New York City-based traditional moving company, doubles down on this assertion: “There are potential legal implications regarding who actually owns certain items (especially with divorce). So make sure law enforcement or an attorney/lawyer is present during the move to ensure no wrongdoing occurs. There has been an incident where our company was hired to move someone who was barred access to their belongings by their former partner.”

Take Only What You Need (And Think About Minimizing Your Stuff)

It can be tempting to take everything you spent money on, whether it be to recoup your losses or spite your ex. Not only is this impractical, it can also just cause more problems, as Edens attests: “Do you really need that stuff you are holding on to? If it is spite material, question what you will do with that particular item after splitting possessions is complete.” She also encourages you to see the move-out as a new opportunity: “Explore minimalizing your life.” You may feel like having a small amount of stuff is scary, but it could also be a chance to let go of the past and lead a more minimalist lifestyle.

Reach Out to Help You Can Trust

Leaving a partner you live with can leave you feeling very vulnerable, so from your interim home to your friends to your movers, make sure you’re working with people you can trust. Don’t be afraid to ask your closest friends for help, and consider keeping the news of your breakup off social media to avoid bringing extra attention to the move. Finding and furnishing a new place to live that’s totally your own is a good focus that will keep your mind off of the old relationship and keep you focused on the future.

If you need help moving out after a divorce or breakup, Dolly can help. We’ll send background-checked, experienced Helpers with a truck to move your most important items to your new home. We’re here to help with any moving and delivery needs, anytime you need it.

Editor’s Note: If you are a moving out to escape a violent partner or fear your partner may become violent when you announce your separation, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-(800)-799-7233 for professional assistance and support services.

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