ASK FATHER: Cohabiting couple who own a house. (MUST READ HILARITY!)

I don’t like hypothetical questions.  “What if’s…?” can go on forever.

However, this one was interesting.  So I reached out to my friend Fr. Ferguson, knowing in my bones that what I would get back would be a doozy.

It’s a doozy.

From a reader…


I have a hypothetical question for you. Let’s say a couple who has been cohabiting buy a house together and co-own it, both have money in it and neither parties has the financial means to buy the other person out, and selling it isn’t possible either (terrible housing market). Neither party has the intention to marry the other and have been together for a very long time. What is the morally correct thing to do in this case? Would it be sufficient to live separately in the same house such as roommates (to my surprise, our traditional priest says co-Ed roommates are allowed if they have separate rooms. My dad didn’t seem to think so, fwiw)?


Hypothetical situations are difficult to talk about, and almost impossible to provide clear moral guidance on, because, as a hypothetical situation, there are far too many variables that could completely alter the case.

Let’s flesh out this hypothetical situation. Hypothetically, of course. Titus and Bertha moved in together when they were stupid, hormone-stricken 19 year olds, away from home at a college out of state. Neither went to church regularly, and they knew, deep down in their hearts, that love would conquer all, and together they were going to show the world what real maturity was like. Ten years later, Bertha’s got a good job at a local bank, has stopped smoking marijuana, and is looking ahead to her future. Titus worked for a moving company for awhile before he got fired for smoking on the job, then he helped his buddy Biff in his pool cleaning business for a bit before it shut down because too much money was going into late-night nachos and the latest tennis shoes. Now, Titus collects unemployment and has several high-level characters on different World of Warcraft servers as well as a killer tattoo of Bertha’s name turning into a butterfly on his left arm. On the advice of a friend, Bertha goes one Tuesday evening to a Catholic Mass and the beauty reawakens in her heart the faith she had stopped practicing in tenth grade when Sr. Noreen yelled at her for having her skirt too short. Bertha comes home, sees Titus on the couch and thinks – I want more out of life. But his name is on the house as well, and she doesn’t want to go through the battle right now. Does she stay in the house, move into a separate room, go make a good confession, and start living her life as a practicing Catholic – more or less ignoring her domestic situation until an easy out comes along?

No. Bertha puts on her big girl pants and gives Titus and ultimatum. He has three options: a) clean up, sober up, get a job and propose to her; b) pick up his dirty clothes, move out, and sell his half of the house to her; or c) let her sell her half of the house to him, and she’ll pack up her dishes and Willow Tree figurines and move out.

Or, lets flesh it out this way:

Connie and Brian move in together after a short but passionate affair, having met on the job at the local pancake house. Deeply in love, but young and immature, they do what all their friends are doing and first rent a cheap, rundown apartment. But as they grow up, and grow together, they start moving forward with their lives. After ten years, Brian is a manager at the restaurant, and Connie is successfully selling beaded jewelry on her Etsy shop and doing medical records transcription at home. But, the flame has gone out of their relationship. They are bonded, not by romance, but by time and inertia. Both are nominally Catholic, and go occasionally to Mass, only learning recently that the tripe they had learned in CCD class back at St. Edmund’s of the Hills Parish and Country Club was balderdash, and coming to the realization that living together without the benefit of marriage is objectively sinful. They know they should move apart, but their finances are mixed, and a little tricky. Brian has a good job, but couldn’t afford to get his own place. Connie has claimed a chunk of their house as a business expense and they also have two vehicles that they jointly own. The housing market is lousy right now, and if they tried to sell and buy two separate places, they would both take an inordinate loss. It’s going to take some time to separate their finances and their lives.

They go to Fr. Dan McTradington, who counsels them that it’s okay for them to continue living under the same house – in different bedrooms – while they work toward separating. He counsels them that they need to firstly ensure that they remain chaste, and that they avoid giving scandal as much as possible. He helps them to set a reasonable timeline and asks them to regularly check in with him on the steps they’re taking.

Of course, it’s all hypothetical, so there could be another thousand variations…

Fr. Z adds:

Yes, Fr. Ferguson is that fun in person.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. jflare29 says:

    I understand his point all too well. I hate to guess how many times I’ve tried explaining how the teachings of faith might apply to a situation, then discovered the other person…mostly had interest in finding–creating–excuses to justify their behavior.
    *sigh* It WOULD be nice, though, if an analysis didn’t always assume that either they’ll both be materially successful, or the guy will always be the lazy, worthless bozo. For my experience, both men and women demonstrate concupiscence rather well. Neither sex has a monopoly on being morally–or practically–decrepit.

  2. CanukFrank says:

    Titus and Bertha: “….knew, deep down in their hearts, that love would conquer all, and together they were going to show the world what real maturity was like”. Like it’s abbreviated version, “love is love is love”, I laughed at loud at it’s naive, clueless, stupidity….and then rued the day when I married, 34 years ago in a non-Catholic church with exactly those sentiments.

    Because Fr. (God bless him!) outright refused to marry us unless my spouse converted and we took marriage prep, I left in a huff, nose in the air, because I knew better.

    After the dust settled, raised 3 children, conversion, re-taking marriage vows, a Falling-Away -From-The-Faith, my Return-
    to-the-Faith, my spouse now agnostic, my kids non-practicing…..we are still together. But. It would have been so much ‘easier’ If I had valued my Faith more….Yup, it can be a doozy, alright ?

  3. TRW says:

    This needs to become a regular feature ! Lol.

  4. kurtmasur says:

    Ha! :-D

  5. This illustrates one of the hugest problems in our society — a problem so huge and all-encompassing you can’t discuss it without someone taking umbrage. But concubinage is one of the devil’s biggest tools in our time for keeping people mired in sin. And not only the couple that shacks up, but especially the kids born of such unions, who grow up thinking it’s okay. And since out-of-wedlock relationships are designed to be walked away from, the kids are condemned to lives of instability and insecurity, as well as an increased likelihood of being exposed to violence and sexual abuse. Many people involved in these situations end up spending their lives in and out of the criminal justice system.

    That two people can be willing to buy a house together and even make babies together, yet be unwilling to tie the knot, makes no sense. But then, sin is not an intelligence enhancer.

  6. Josephus Corvus says:

    Fr. Ferguson doesn’t have a website that needs hits or followers, does he?

  7. William Cody says:

    Anita Moore, if I had the money, I would plaster your second paragraph on TV and radio. And in magazines and movies and at ball games, on buses and milk cartons and T-shirts and bananas and written on the sky.

    Such common sense. So lacking

  8. guatadopt says:

    What an absolutely amazing response. It was “St. Edmund’s of the Hills Parish and Country Club” that made me burst out laughing.

  9. APX says:

    Getting out of a co-ownership of a house (at least in Canada) is so complicated and difficult that it’s easier to get divorced. In fact, that’s what one girl I worked with did. She and her boyfriend decided to buy a house together instead of get married because buying a house together was a bigger commitment that was more difficult to get out of than marriage.

  10. mo7 says:

    A [church] wedding invitation we have has been postponed from May 2020 to May 2021 due to Corona. But to the couple already living together in a home they purchased home 3-4 years ago the important thing was a May wedding, because the bridesmaids are wearing spring colors.

  11. The Masked Chicken says:

    Well, if those two people are stuck together, right now, then:

    I can’t tell if this is a story about CO-VID-ING thy neighbor’s wife

    or CO-VID-ING thy neighbor’s goods.

    Clearly, this situation needs to be SANITIZED as soon as possible by a goodly (or Godly) dose of LIFE-SOL or BANN-SANITIZER.

    They, definitely, need to practice social distancing or maybe suspended amouration. They are being blinded by concupiscience or concupi-nonsense.

    Oh, where is the humanity,
    (where is the dog?)
    trading for insanity
    for a bit of a snog.

    These people are moral viruses to each other and yet, they can’t seem to give each other the, “flew.” Co-habitation is for viruses (and parasites).

    Of course, they could pull a Solomon and split the house with a chain saw (I hear there is a market for such, “split” duplexes, among avant-garde realtor.

    The Chicken

  12. Antonin says:

    I think looking at individual behaviour is just one part. Cohabitation is increasing especially among those 50 or older

    There are a number of reasons for this but some of them have to do with lower wages combined with higher housing and rental costs. Others have to due with the increase number of divorce among couples in this demographic as they struggle for identity after kids grow up and leave, etc.

    If we want to reverse these trends, yes we need to reinforce values of monogamy, and stability in marriage. But at the same time we have to ensure that our political leaders are addressing issues of jobs, living wages, and housing costs.

    Many young people have to move from their homes and communities just to find work. Rural and smaller areas are shrinking due to out-migration. This means the connection with family, kind, and extended family is strained leaving us more atomized.

  13. APX says:

    the important thing was a May wedding, because the bridesmaids are wearing spring colors.

    Some brides get caught up on these frivolous things like seasonal colours, matching necklines, and that the dresses don’t clash with the carpet (Yes, those last things actually happened.)

    Not me. Should I ever get married, I should like to think of myself as a low maintenance bride who doesn’t get caught up in such frivolities. As long as the organist uses the stop registrations I want, doesn’t play the Te Deum Prelude like someone skipping through the tulips, and emphasizes the descending arpeggiated chords in the pedalboard, and the trumpeter has a piccolo trumpet for playing the Albason Fanfare before the Processional begins, and gives me discount for not choosing Canon in D for the Processional, I’ll be happy. No, frivolities aren’t things I get worked up over.

  14. jflare29 says:

    We’ll be generally best off the less our political leadership get involved in wages and housing costs. There were legitimately good intentions with minimum wage laws and housing projects begun some decades past. Most of these have long demonstrated the folly of focusing on material goods. Too many embrace “lifestyles” which lead anywhere except happiness. Society won’t truthfully recover–except by accident–until we generally recognize moral virtue in law.


    Titus and Bertha are together for a while and share the house and all of that. Bertha is totally fine with everything until Titus isn’t making as much money as she is. The moment he makes less than her for any reason she realizes that she can do better and so she’d like to move on to another disposable male who makes more money. She tells Titus that he has to move out. She is completely unswayed by his argument that he has money in the house. She knows that she can get the police to force him to move out at gunpoint and she can just claim the rest of the house. She’d even be able to claim it all had he owned the house outright since her living there and putting time into the house is enough to get the government to force the transfer of ownership.

    Titus, being at the lowest point in his life, seeks guidance. The society around him all mock him and no one has any sympathy for his situation except for a few allegedly “toxic” divorced men online who tell him “all women are like that”. Titus then realizes that perhaps this is exactly the reason why priests remain unmarried to begin with and that idea spurs him to visit a church. There in the presence of the tabernacle the scales fall from his eyes and he knows that he has to do the right thing. He realizes that he should not act out of the fear of loss or out of anger for being robbed. He understands that even though Bertha broke up with him, their time spent together does not mean nothing. He has a duty to her because love is not just some random hormone fueled emotion that humans have no control over. Love is an act of the will and therefore it is a choice. Titus can choose to love Bertha and he can choose to do the upright responsible thing.

    Titus cleans himself up. He gets a job. He scrapes together enough cash so he isn’t homeless anymore. He goes and buys a modest ring which is all he can afford. He goes to Bertha and proposes.

    Bertha completely rejects him. In fact she is angered and alarmed that he would dare to even come near her. She screams at him that “No woman would ever want you”. Titus doesn’t understand her reaction so he leaves and wonders at what had just happened. Later the police visit him where he is living to ask him why he went to visit Bertha. As it turned out Bertha called the emergency services after Titus left to claim that Titus was being aggressive and violent. Titus now has a court date to appear charged with Domestic Violence and a restraining order telling him he can’t go back to the house that he legally owns.

    As Titus tries to manage to rebuild his life, small that it already is, he realizes that the Church had it right all along. It isn’t misogynist to never get married and never date. It in fact represented the highest form of respect for women since it gives them exactly what they say they want. Bertha had told Titus that she did not want him and that no woman would ever want him. So for Titus there was now no reason to ever date again.

    A little over a year passes and Titus is going much better for himself. He has finished his court mandated anger management classes, he has some money saved up, and it happens that he meets a nice woman about his same age who seems to be interested him him. At first he is tempted to start dating again but after talking with her for just a little bit he realizes that this new woman has done to her ex boyfriend exactly what Bertha did to him. She wasn’t looking at Titus for a real relationship, just her next mark. Titus realizes that the world needs better moral guidance. Dating and marriage should not be this way.

    Titus visits the priest at the parish where he has been attending Mass. Titus wasn’t well formed yet in the one true faith but he asks about going to seminary. Titus gets the address and phone number for who he needs to call and an interview is set up. Titus goes to the interview hopeful. He knows he is not worthy to be a priest but no man really ever is and he’s willing to give himself completely to Christ. At the interview Titus is very confused. He was asked time and again about whether or not he had any gay friends and what he thought of that kind of thing. Titus didn’t have good answers for any of that. He what the church taught and tried to repeat that as tactfully as he could.

    Then the interviewer tells Titus that because his parents weren’t married when Titus was born that he could never be accepted into seminary. Titus is disheartened but after going home and thinking about it for a few days he realizes that even if he can’t be a priest nothing is stopping him from devoting his life to prayer. At first he doesn’t know what to do or how to start but he does start and he sticks with it. He progresses from general prayers to doing the Liturgy of the Hours. The he progresses more and begins doing the Divine Office from before Vatican II. Then he progresses more and find himself praying the psalms the way it was done before Pius X. Day after day he sticks with it. Year after year he continues to pray as he navigates his life.

    When Titus is about 45 years old he gets a very strange phone call from none other than Bertha. She is reaching out to him to tell him that she wants to sell the house she is in but can’t because Titus owns it. She says she needs the money. Titus doesn’t hold any hard feelings against her and so he starts to talk with her. She tells him the story of her life how she jumped from new boyfriend to new boyfriend until she ended up with a guy who really did start to hit her and abuse her. She was only just then getting out from under his control and all she had left in her life was that house.

    Titus agreed to meet in person with Bertha and when they did he found her flirting a lot with him, asking if he had a girlfriend and dropping the hint that she might be running out of time to have a child. Titus, being fully dedicated to his prayers and living as the Church teaches he should live doesn’t take the bait. He helps her sell the house but doesn’t give her all the money. He give her a portion but he gives the rest to charity.

    From then on Bertha starts to show up at his home at strange times to ask for more and more help. Eventually Titus has to tell her to leave him alone because while as a Christian he would help her, she was really looking to get her hooks into him and control him. She got hysterical at that and eventually Titus had to call the police on her and get a restraining order issued against her to keep her away. Far from that being something that would hurt her, he remembered back to when he had to be put back on the right track himself and he hoped that this life lesson for Bertha would do the same for her.

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