Re: divorce in cohousing
From: Doug Huston (
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2014 20:58:53 -0800 (PST)
Ann - 

Thanks for asking. I’m known to be verbose and had tried to be brief in my 
introduction of this topic. I fear the brevity has lead some folks to fill in 
the blanks in ways that that may or may not be applicable to the proposal. My 
job and food poisoning and kid’s lice converged to prevent a quicker response 
on my part. Maybe the rapidness of responses that e-mail allows, and persons’ 
interpretations and projections of the written word are tangentially related to 
the concurrent list serve thread about e-mail. Unsurprisingly, this topic 
touches some readers emotionally.

For me, the idea of this proposal originated when a community member moved out 
during a trial separation. The person who moved offsite announced they had 
every expectation that they would continue to be a fully participating member. 
There was no discussion in the community about whether this was okay or not. 
Nor did the half of the couple remaining here weigh in on it. As I think it is 
fair to assume would be common, there was some palpable tension between the 
couple having the trial separation. Personally, I was/am in favor of the couple 
working their challenges out, but not so much amidst the milieu of the 
community. I was slightly nauseous at the spectre of this potential ongoing 
drama. And no, i’m not conflict avoidant.
Then jump to another situation in which a couple did divorce. [This is the one 
my fellow community member Lyle refers to and was part of, and the proposal 
does not apply to him or his ex. It is not somehow retroactive]. There was much 
drama that ensued, but only some of it had to do with their divorce. Another 
event (about which I’m not being transparent out of respect to others) brought 
up for our community a struggle about what are 'personal issues’ and what are 
'community issues.’ One of the members involved did live ‘offsite.’ The impact 
on the community was quite evident in big and small ways. Community members had 
differing ideas about how the conflict should be handled. Responses ranges 
widely and included: 
individuals' reactions are the problem
take a timeout between parties involved
how do folks make amends in a community
schedule persons to attend different common meal 
its not that big of a problem               
and on and on and on and on. There were many many responses and solutions and 
issues that emerged.

Community conflict resolution steps were taken. Parties went to mediation. We 
brought in outside professionals. Interpersonal “clearing” ensued and became 
fairly commonplace in the community. And the drama continued. The offsite 
member is no longer a community member. Improved conflict resolution protocols 
are being considered in the wake of this. I want to emphasize that little of 
that was related to divorce, but was instructive about how our community could 
be shaken up and suffer.

The ‘divorce proposal’ is an amalgamation of thoughts connected to the 
aforementioned different events. I understand the danger in creating reactive 
proposals. I’ve thought about this for most of a year, and aspire to not be 
‘reactive,’ while admitting my ideas are colored by experience. My motivations 
and intentions are varied. One is to hold the community in a primary position 
above the individuals going through their likely difficulties in a divorce. If 
a divorcing member moves offsite, this proposal circumscribes the community 
from some of the drama that I presume divorcing/divorced members are likely 
experiencing. Another is to set a default expectation, as opposed to winging it 
or muddling through or taking things on a case by case basis. Their will 
inherently be enough of that anyway. Just a reminder from the proposal - 
exceptions could be considered. As a community, we have historically been 
flexible and considerate about our guidelines. Each individual of the couple 
will be eligible for support from the individuals in the community with whom 
they have friendships. Divorces are about resetting boundaries. This would 
reset and clarify boundaries as well. 

Wow! This has really took off in unanticipated directions. To clarify regarding 
some responses….proposal would of course not apply to people who remain in the 
community; it specifies people who move away. It would not apply to people who 
move offsite and retain home ownership and want to exercise their legal rights 
as homeowner. It sounds like some folks equate boundary-setting with 
contributing to stress or choosing sides. I guess it is choosing sides in as 
much as the person remaining retains full community membership. And I guess it 
could be interpreted as choosing sides by choosing community over couple. 
Obviously, I’m comfortable with that. That this policy inherently negatively 
impacts children is not clear to me. I’m sure it could be argued both ways. 
While what the divorcing family wants is important (if that could be agreed 
upon), I’m not sure that is the only or best criteria for decision-making in a 
community regarding a divorce. Boundaries by definition include and excludes. 
Some boundaries or permeable, and others more firm or rigid. The concept of 
“shunning” is colorful, but I don’t think captures what I was trying to talk 
about at all. I’m sorry for how I might have contributed to that. 

I appreciate the faith in conflict resolution processes and have a lot of this 
faith myself. And I suspect there may be some unspoken assumptions about such 
processes I might not share. Those assumptions sometimes appear to me as - if 
one just tries hard enough, or says something the right way, or loves enough, 
or learns certain communication skills, or listens better, or maintains a 
particular stance, or remains curious, or, or, or.              Sometimes 
things do not work out. The reasons differ. And an aside is that if there is 
domestic violence, laws may specifically prevent mediation, couples’ 
counseling, and such conventional processes.

I imagine some readers will think back on their own break-ups which occurred 
outside cohousing, others have lived through it inside cohousing, and others 
have observed such events from afar. I do appreciate the thoughtful responses 
and feedback. 
- Doug

On Feb 12, 2014, at 6:53 AM, Ann Zabaldo <zabaldo [at]> wrote:

> Hello Doug —
> Can you talk a little more about what is happening in your community that 
> gave rise to this proposal?  My experience is that proposals don’t arise in a 
> vacuum.
> Have you experienced or are you experiencing a particularly  difficult or 
> “nasty” divorce in your community?
> Fleshing this out a little more for those of us on this list will help us 
> understand the situation(s) you are facing in your community.  And help us 
> respond with more refined and targeted comments.
> Thanks!
> Best --
> Ann Zabaldo
> Takoma Village Cohousing
> Washington, DC
> Principal, Cohousing Collaborative, LLC
> Falls Church VA
> 703-688-2646
> On Feb 10, 2014, at 9:06 PM, Doug Huston <huston [at]> wrote:
>> At times I’ve read on this list serve how stressful break-ups/divorces have 
>> been on communities. 
>> In our community, we are considering the following proposal: 
>> When a couple breaks up, the person who moves out of the community is 
>> automatically no longer a member of the community. 
>> This means he/she cannot be an off-site member, a category which exist for 
>> some communities.
>> This would be the default situation. Exceptions could be considered. If 
>> after one year the member who moved out wants to re-join, the group could 
>> choose to consider this - or not.
>> The intention behind this is to insulate the community (to some extent) from 
>> the common challenges, stress, and tensions which usually accompany 
>> break-ups, and would likely be heightened if both parties remain formally 
>> involved in community activities. 
>> We are wondering what others in communities think, and if there are similar 
>> or related policies regarding break-ups elsewhere in cohousing. 
>> Thanks for your comments in advance.
>> Doug Huston - Ashland (Oregon) Cohousing Community 
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