Can two straight single moms build a modern family together?

This originally ran in May, 2013, but I republished it now to celebrate the launch of  Single Mom Society the awesome new forum for professional single moms to  hang out, dish on divorce, kids, sex, dating, money, career — and make friends. 

My best SMILF Morghan and I discussed buying a multifamily home together, and reaping the financial, logistical and emotional benefits afforded married couples. Do you think this arrangement could work?

Morghan:  Would it be so crazy if we bought a house and moved in together?

Emma: How would that work?

Morghan: Well, we would enter into a contract…maybe even a 10-year one…

Emma: hahaha!! But what is the arrangement?

Morghan: We could go in on a three-family home. Each of us would take a unit and we'd rent out the third as income. Whatever money we put in as equity would be separate property. Contributions to mortgage would be half, plus rent collected would be considered 50/50.

Emma: So let me dumb this down for non-lawyers: Everything would be halvsies.

Morghan: Right. We would leverage our incomes. Sorta like marriage.

Emma: Leverage not only our incomes but also other assets. Time. Child care. Efficiencies in bulk. We could help watch each others kids at times, or find more affordable child care since we'd have four kids in one place.

Morghan: Exactly!

Emma: Plus other intangibles, like companionship. Our kids would benefit from growing up in an extended family.

Morghan:  Question: who mows the lawn and cleans the gutters?

Emma:  Fuck that – we hire that out.

Morghan:  I love how you think!

Emma:  So we agree!! No fights in this partnership!

Morghan:  What could go wrong?

Emma:  Well, let's turn this into a reality TV show and really capitalize on it. The network would no doubt do some fancy editing to insinuate that we're undermining the other. And that there are lesbian undertones to the whole thing. Then one of us gets involved with a guy and the whole thing blows up because the other one is secretly in love with the other.

Morghan:  Won't a super-hot lawn guy solve the problem? Just like a real marriage.

Emma:  Oh yes! But what if we fight over him?

Morghan:  LOL

Emma: OR in reality, you just get on my nerves. And we bicker and fight and break up.

Me and Morghan, at our first cohabitation experiment — the vacation rental we shared for a week. There were no fatalities.

Morghan: Just like a real marriage! But if one of us gets remarried, it would just get better, since there will be more  kids added to our nouveau Brady Bunch set-up.

Emma: Actually, this was done in Kate & Allie.

Morghan: Totally! I loved that show.

Emma:  But what if my new husband hates your ass?

Morghan:  He would…it's big enough.

Emma:  hahah! So you just get fat, then I won't have to worry about my fantasy husband having an affair with you.

Morghan:  Wait, which show is this turning into? Big Love?

Emma:  Maybe! So let's back up — who gets which apartment?

Morghan:  Should we have the rental in the middle?

Emma:  Why? So we can terrorize the tenants with kid noise from the upstairs AND the downstairs?

Morghan:  I think we need the bottom floor so we have access to the yard.

Emma: OK, who gets that?

Morghan:  I want it because I'll probably be getting a dog at some point.

Emma:  I don't want a dog pooping in the yard. Plus, a hypothetical dog doesn't entitle you to the better property!

Morghan:  I'm just saying it would be convenient. I expect the kids would be running up and down the stairs between houses anyway.

Emma:  Probably.

Morghan: The real fight will be over laundry use, since most of these places only have one washer/dryer.

Emma: I send my laundry out, so how about if you take the top floor with the laundry and I get the bottom with the garden?

Morghan:  Laundry is usually bottom floor.

Emma: So you get the garden AND the laundry?

Morghan: Is this going to be our first fight, honey?

Emma: I think so! And then there are other things, like what if we need a new roof and one of us doesn't have the cash. Or we have extra cash and one wants to paint the exterior and the other wants to upgrade the heater. A million possible issues.

Morghan:  I think that the equity invested is credited when we sell, so if one pays for more of the roof, that comes out in the sale.

Emma:  That is assuming there will be a sale. We may be two divorcees bickering until our dying days in that shack.

Morghan:  Is that better than being alone? At least you'll have someone to help you up the stairs (or push you down them).

Emma: So you really have called the basement apartment! A&E better have a big budget, our reality TV show will last 60 years. Morghan:  Not if I don't renew at the 10-year mark…

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About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.


  1. Megan on February 15, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    There’s actually a website to help single moms meet other single moms interested in this idea… common sense and background checks still apply, though.

  2. Emma on January 2, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Keep us posted Jordana!!

  3. jordana on December 30, 2013 at 9:41 am

    I have had a very similar discussion with my SMILF.. still may happen!

  4. Morghan on May 18, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    No one is renting from the other (as long as there is mortgage interest to be deducted…)

    PS. Thanks for using a sweaty, running around with the kids, no make-up photo of us. But I think that’s a little too “reality”… A&E better budget for a make-up artist.

    • Emma on May 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      yes, we would have the interest deduction to figure out. Will update the pic when we get a better one!

  5. Emma on May 13, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Yeah, one of the major points for us would be to have the financial investment, which would be tough for each of us to afford independently since NYC real estate is so pricey. And therein lies the potential landmines — we’re both in 50-50, just like a marriage, whereas a owner/tenant arrangement would have a clear power structure.

  6. Free Money Minute on May 13, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Sounds like it would work out well if it was setup properly from the beginning. Proper expectations, etc. Maybe one person officially owns the home and the other “rents” but has skin in the game in another fashion. Interesting idea, I hope it all works out!

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