Here it is:
Four years ago, Cristina Gitti and Matteo Bologna, the parents of two daughters, decided to divorce. But they parted ways by only a flight of stairs. The couple opted to stay put with their girls in the brownstone they had purchased in 2003 in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, for around $1.4 million.
“We were all living up here,” said Ms. Gitti, 48, a fashion designer and the owner of Matta NY, a clothing company, referring to the top level of their three-unit brownstone. After the divorce, she continued to live on the top floor. Her ex-husband, Mr. Bologna, 50, the founder and creative director of Mucca Design and muccaTypo, moved to the garden level; the middle unit is rented out. “At first, I didn’t know when it was O.K. to go downstairs,” Ms. Gitti said. “I think we threw some coins down the stairwell as the signal. It worked out fine.”
While some might say this way of living is unconventional, it’s actually very New York. And in a way, New Yorkers are great models of divorce done right. For one thing, fewer are divorced than one would expect. Nationally, the 2014 American Community Survey found 11 percent of Americans over age 15 to be divorced, while in New York City, it was a much more amicable 8 percent, according to an analysis of census data by Susan Weber-Stoger, a researcher in the sociology department at Queens College.
And when city couples do choose to split, some stay close, residing in the same neighborhoods, the same apartment buildings and even the same houses for the sake of their children and, as it often turns out, for themselves.
“The benefits are that we do not need to pick up or drop off the girls, they just use the stairs from one apartment to the other,” Mr. Bologna said. “They don’t need to carry bags in between the apartments, except for their school backpacks. In the morning, if one parent has some work emergency, the other can pick up the slack and take the girls to school instead. And if they forgot one of their precious Monster High Dolls at Mom’s house, all they have to do is just call upstairs and ask for permission to go and pick up the toy.”
This calling-ahead-to-the-parent-not-on-duty provision was specified in the divorce agreement.
“I think that it was very organic,” Ms. Gitti said. “There wasn’t an act of rebellion. I imagine that if the girls had been older at the time, it would have been harder.” The couple’s daughters, Olivia Bologna Gitti, 11, and Sofia Bologna Gitti, 8, were 8 and 4 at the time of the split.
“It was pretty easy, considering our fortunate setting,” Ms. Gitti said. “The main concern was to create and live in a peaceful environment for our kids as we were moving on with our lives. We had a couple of meetings with a therapist. She helped us figure out how to manage the new living situation, and we came up with rules to preserve our privacy as newly single parents.”
Olivia, their elder daughter, said she didn’t understand at first what was happening. “I just knew that my parents weren’t going to live together anymore, so I burst into tears,” she said. “But then when the new routine actually started happening I was like: ‘This isn’t that bad. This is normal.’ I like routines.”
In the end, it made both financial and emotional sense for the family to stay put, particularly in light of Brooklyn real estate prices. The median rental price for a two-bedroom apartment in Fort Greene in late 2015 was $3,775 a month, according to Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel, an appraisal firm.
“We both thought it was the best idea for me to move into the lower-level apartment — it’s cheaper than renting a new place,” Mr. Bologna said. “We also thought that for the girls, it would be less emotionally traumatic.”
Upon entering the Gitti/Bologna house, one is immediately struck by a sense of warmth and artistic flair. The laughter of all four family members resonates through the halls. Aromas from Tuscan-inspired recipes — both parents are from Italy — waft from the top of the house to the bottom. But that’s not to say their friends weren’t initially skeptical of the setup.
“My friends said, ‘What if she has a boyfriend, what will you do?’ ” Mr. Bologna recalled. “I said, ‘If she does, good for her!’ ”
Ms. Gitti said, “We have a lot of friends who I feel were watching us. They were curious to see what would happen.” She added, “And now when we sit down together, our friends tell us: ‘If we ever divorced — not that we are going to do it — you are our example.’ ”
Joy Rosenthal, the lawyer and divorce mediator retained by Mr. Bologna, said that she often works with New York City couples who stay in close quarters after separation or divorce. Some opt to continue to live together in the same apartment until one person can afford to move out.
“It’s a New York thing,” she said. “Because housing is so tight here and so expensive, I think the decisions are often based on the economic market as well as on what they want to do for the kids. Most couples who are together, they spend just about what they make. So when you’re dividing a household budget into two households, it’s very difficult.”
Nadine Adamson, an associate broker for Brown Harris Stevens in Brooklyn, said she has observed more divorced couples looking to stay in the same community after a split.
“When my parents divorced in TriBeCa 30 years ago, they lived two blocks away from each other, but had to split the supermarkets, restaurants and the blocks they walked, in order to avoid each other at all costs,” she said. “My dad got Chinatown and my mother got the Food Emporium.”
But Tara Averill, 43, the founder of RepresentationCo., a talent agency, and of Splitsville, a community-centered app and website about divorce, sees no need to divide the city as if it were a marital asset. She and her ex-husband, who preferred not to be named, live about four blocks away from each other in Brooklyn and share custody of their two children, Fiona Averill, 10, and Liam Averill, 7.
Before the divorce, the couple rented a townhouse for $3,500 a month in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and spent four months experimenting with a “bird’s-nest” arrangement, divorce lingo for a child-centric practice in which the children remain in one home and the parents rotate in and out of the space. Ms. Averill and her then-spouse took turns living in a $2,000-a-month studio in the East Village.
“It was tricky,” she said. “You have to always think — do you have the clothes you need, do you have the stuff you need? You’re in your own home, but it feels temporary.”
After realizing the nesting idea wasn’t for them, the couple gave the marriage another go, moving together to a three-bedroom duplex in a Fort Greene brownstone. But Ms. Averill soon realized she wanted to be on her own and found a two-bedroom for $3,900 a month at One Hanson Place, the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank, also in Fort Greene. The children’s father stayed put; his rent is $3,500 a month.
“I kind of made it an adventure moving into this apartment,” she said. “I told the kids, ‘It’s a high-rise. You’re going to have the experience of living in a brownstone and living in a high-rise!’ ”
Both homes are only about a 15-minute walk from the children’s school.
Ms. Averill is comforted by being able to see her ex-husband’s house just by looking out her living room window.“I can see the kids’ bedrooms,” she said. “I had this idea we would learn Morse code. We never figured it out.”
A few years ago, when Terrence Harding and Sara Momii Roberts decided to end their marriage, they knew they wanted to stay within walking distance of each other. Their son, Sebastian, was then 2. Ms. Roberts, 37, a teacher, left the two-bedroom in Park Slope, Brooklyn, that Mr. Harding still rents, now at $2,700 a month, and moved just a few blocks away to a $1,600-a-month studio.
“Cost was not a factor,” Ms. Roberts said. “It was all about proximity. I went way over my budget to be there. I tutored a lot to afford that apartment. It was also close to one of my best friends, and I needed that support as well.”
Ms. Roberts and Mr. Harding, 43, a salesman for the Corcoran Group and a former member of the rap group Junior M.A.F.I.A., came up with a strategy that kept them — and their son, who is now 8 — connected to their neighborhood.
“It was important for me to stay close to Terrence, for Sebastian’s sake,” Ms. Roberts said. “I wanted him to have the same neighborhood, the same commute to preschool, enjoy the same playgrounds that we frequented, be able to see his neighborhood friends, have the same subway stop. It benefited Seb not to go too long between seeing either one of us. Since I didn’t have a car, living close to Terrence was a necessity, given our parenting schedule.”
These days Ms. Roberts has a car and lives about two miles away from Mr. Harding, in an attached house in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, that she shares with her fiancé, Amilcar Perez, 42, a lawyer, and their 1-year-old son, Clemente. Sebastian spends Saturday afternoon through Tuesday at his mother’s home and Wednesday morning to Saturday at his father’s apartment. His two almost identical bedrooms are both outfitted with loft beds and decorated with a basketball motif.
Ms. Roberts said she feels there is something about New York City life that makes living so close to your ex-spouse an attractive option.
“Since New York City is so dense and many residents don’t drive, people’s identity is really tied to the local neighborhood,” Ms. Roberts said. “On top of that, I think that New Yorkers like to find their ‘familiar’ in the vast anonymity of our urban life. So changing things like your go-to bodega, your train stop or even your laundromat can be a big deal.”
Hannah Jones Lawrence, 29, the deputy editor of branded content at Romper, a parenting website for millennials, shuttled back and forth between her divorced parents’ apartments on the Upper West Side starting when she was 4 years old. Her mother, Christine Jones, 66, who now works at All Points Property Management in Troy, N.Y., lived on West End Avenue and 93rd Street, while her father, Stephen Lawrence, 76, a composer, resided just blocks away on West 86th Street.
“Sometimes I actually can’t believe I had the schedule that I did,” Ms. Lawrence said. “On Mondays and Wednesdays I’d be at my mom’s house, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I’d be with my dad at his house, and if it was his weekend, I’d spend Friday and Saturday with him and go back to my mom’s on Sunday. I enjoyed it because I got to see both of them on a fairly regular basis. But it did require a lot of planning. And quite a heavy backpack.”
The back and forth was not without its drawbacks. “I always felt guilty for asking to spend another night here instead of there because I didn’t want to hurt my mom or dad’s feelings, and I shouldn’t have been worried about that,” she said. “The schedule is a guideline, not a list of commandments.”
Toward the end of high school, she said to her parents, “I’m done. Please don’t make me do this anymore,” and moved into her mother’s apartment full time, seeing her father about once a week. That’s not to say she didn’t find the original arrangement beneficial. “When your parents live so close to each other, you never really feel like anyone’s absent,” she said.
“I think parents who are really interested and dedicated to being involved with their kids will figure out a way to do it no matter where they live,” said Ms. Rosenthal, the divorce mediator. “One advantage of the parents living in the same neighborhood is kids can spend more time in their own homes rather than in transit. But if the parents are getting along, the kids will be O.K.”
At the Gitti/Bologna household, things seem to be working out.
“Sometimes I want to say hi in the evenings when they’re with him,” Ms. Gitti said. “I’ll come in and say to the girls, ‘Hi, I just want to give you a kiss.’ And then Matteo says, ‘Come in!’ And then we all have dinner.”
“We’re still a family,” Mr. Bologna said.