In divorce, one or both partners generally have to move. Perhaps it’s you, and you make a list of what you hope to get in your new place: a washer and dryer, a Starbucks within walking distance, a hot next-door neighbor—and a location that is close to your ex.
Huh? Proximity to an ex may not be on most people’s post-divorce house- or apartment-hunting checklist, but if you’re a co-parent with a decent relationship with your ex, it should be number one (or, perhaps tied with “hot neighbor”). Where you choose to live is a big deal for you, your ex and the children you share.
I was struck by the importance of the old real-estate truism “location, location, location,” when watching Jane the Virgin—and how this idea takes on a new twist in divorce.
In episode 16 of season two, television’s favorite virgin, Jane Villanueva, tours a number of “charming” houses (code for small and old). She finds a perfect place for her and her fiancé Michael. Except, it’s a 40-minute drive from Jane’s co-parent, Rafael.
In the TV show, a bird on the adorable wallpaper in one room of the near-perfect place comes to life and cautions her: “I hate to be all doomsday prophesy, but your baby daddy’s never gonna go for it.”
The wallpaper is right.
Yes, the house has a great yard, but Jane’s co-parent does not want his son to live so far away. Jane decides to try the new house for one year; if it doesn’t work, she won’t renew her lease.
But then baby Mateo starts walking, just as Jane is about to sign the paperwork. Her wise-parent side kicks in: She wants her son’s dad present for big moments in his life. What if Mateo had started walking while at his dad’s? Jane would want to sprint over, not sit on the highway in traffic. She decides the real perfect house is one closer to her co-parent.
Episode over, happily ever after. For now.
In real life, as on this telenovela, living close to an ex you get along with can ease any number of logistical and emotional complications that arise with co-parenting. Parenting today can be a huge logistical challenge, even without trying to remember which house you last saw your 7th grader’s science textbook in.
Here's why proximity matters:
Proximity lets you see the small moments
Gymnastics meets, track. A first date. The small moments of childhood are what add up to a life, and living nearby means you can drop in for these regular moments, rather than just on “your day.” Child psychologists say the ideal co-parenting arrangement is one that allows kids to see both parents regularly, but without too many transitions; living nearby can go a long way toward facilitating this.
Adult children of divorce say that proximity helped them, too. “Most mornings my dad would drive us to school on his way to work,” says 28-year-old teacher Kaitlin McCarthy, who lived primarily with her mother in Princeton, New Jersey, after her parents divorced. Her father lived a few miles away. For Kaitlin, having her dad close meant she got to feel bonded with him, without worrying that her mom was having to drive her a long way to make that relationship work.
Even now that she’s an adult, Kaitlin says she appreciates having her parents live in the same city. “It makes it easy that they live so close together when my fiance and I travel for the holidays,” she says.
Conversely, living far can lead to missing out. Some adult children of divorce say that having one parent live far away felt like it prevented them from really bonding. Twenty-seven-year old sales rep Becca Martin lived with her mother in New Jersey after her parents divorced. Her father moved to Spain. She says she was acutely aware of not having him there. “From broken bones, to broken hearts—from high school graduation to college graduation, he missed it all,” says Martin.
Being close means being there in good times, and bad.
For many co-parents, living close allows them to be present for joyful moments like a baby’s first steps. But it also can be hugely helpful when things go awry. For children, knowing both parents will be there in good times—and bad—can provide a sense of security, even in the midst of divorce or its aftermath. Natasha Diaz, a 29-year-old writer says she was grateful that her parents both remained in New York City after their divorce, particularly during crisis times. “When my appendix ruptured my mom and my dad were both at the hospital,” says Natasha.
Living a couple blocks from an ex isn’t ideal in every family. If you and your ex have opposing values and can’t control your anger, you do not want a co-parenting arrangement that has you seeing each other every day.
Some adult children of divorce say they valued not having to witness regular interaction between feuding parents. “I am very appreciative of the geography involved in their/my relationship,” says Rebekah Kelly, who grew up in New Jersey, while her father lived in Idaho. Her parents butted heads about how to raise a teenage girl, but because they lived states apart, those clashes never got too out of hand. “The distance really allowed us to cherish small doses of each other and take our space when differences appeared over the phone,” she says.
If your gut tells you to turn down your dream house, maybe it wasn’t going to meet your dreams as a parent. There’s more than one nice backyard out there. Jane and Michael find a new house to rent that fits all their requirements and is close to Rafael. Because Jane’s life is a soap opera, that house is secretly owned by Rafael’s ex-wife and his baby mama number two, Petra. If you choose to rent property near your ex, chances are the circumstances will be less operatic. But, if you’re lucky, maybe it will have talking wallpaper.
Laura Brienza is the author of two nonfiction books for Globe Pequot Press: Discovering Vintage Washington, DC and New York's Historic Restaurants, Inns, and Taverns. Her writing has also appeared in Flavor & The Menu, Feminine Collective, 1st Amendment Media/IndyBuild, The Date Diaries, and she is a Weekend Reporter for Obsessed With Everything. Her plays have been produced and developed by The Lark Play Development Center, the Kennedy Center, and Luna Stage, where her most recent play Old Love New Love was hailed for its "sharp writing" and "poignant moments" by The New York Times.