Leaving the Marital Residence During A Divorce

Let's Untie the Knot | Leaving the Marital Residence During A Divorce

Your divorce may be a highly emotional and even contentious event.  When emotions are running high, your immediate reaction may be to seek refuge from the chaos and tension by leaving the marital residence.  While it is understandable that you would want to take action to diffuse the intensity of the situation, leaving the marital home can have serious negative implications for how your divorce will unfold.

Impact on child custody:  

If you a parent to minor children, leaving your house can compromise your custody rights.  Voluntarily leaving the house and allowing the children to stay in the house with your spouse sends a signal to the court that you believe that your spouse is a competent parent.  This can negatively impact your ability down the road to seek primary custody.  In addition, judges are aware that changes can be difficult for children and will act to maintain the status quo whenever possible.  If the children have remained in the family home during the divorce, the parent who lives there can argue that removing them from that home will create an unnecessary stress for the children.  As a result, the parent who left the marital residence may face an uphill battle in making an argument for primary custody.

Legal and financial concerns:

A significant hurdle in divorce is making the income that supported one household stretch to maintain two.  If the higher-earning spouse leaves the family residence, he or she should expect to continue making many of the household expenses, including the mortgage and insurance payments.  On the other hand, depending on how the divorce plays out, the spouse who remains in the home may give up money or property in the final division, to compensate for having had the benefit of remaining in the residence.  Significantly, the fact that one party remains in the home does not mean that spouse is more likely to keep the house when the property is permanently divided.  In Oregon, all marital assets, including the family home, are divided through an equitable distribution system.  Equitable division means that a court will split the property between the spouses in a “fair” way.  In most, but not all, cases, this means that the marital residence will be divided equally.

Leaving your possessions behind

Many spouses leave the marital residence with little regard to the possessions they are leaving behind.  Although you may want to leave as quickly as possible, you should slow down and think through what you are leaving in the residence.  You should be aware that once you are out, your access to the house may be severely limited.  As a result, you should be sure to have copies of all documents that could be relevant to your case.  This includes credit card statements, pay stubs, tax returns, mortgage documents, etc.  You will also want to take an inventory of the contents of your home through photographs or video.  Make sure that all belongings with any value—jewelry, coin collections, furniture, paintings- are documented.  The moment you leave the house, your access to these belongings will be extremely limited.  If these possessions are joint marital property, they will be subject to an equitable distribution by the court.  You don’t want any of these items to “suddenly” go missing during the divorce procedure.

As has been illustrated, the consequences for running from your home are dire.  Now is the time to employ reasoning and abandon emotions.  A therapist or trustworthy ally can help you deal with your emotions.  Above all, do not abruptly leave your home and abandon your children.

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