Living together after you’ve decided to divorce or separate is extremely difficult, regardless of how you got there. It’s no wonder this tense, uncomfortable living situation often pushes divorcing couples to make rash decisions about moving out before fully considering the consequences.
Before you pack up your bags, it’s critical to consider the legal ramifications to moving out during divorce in Pennsylvania. There are lots of misconceptions, so we’ve gathered the top four questions we hear all the time.
Let’s clear things up so you can make an informed decision before taking action.
1. If I move out, will I still have a claim to the house in a divorce?
If you move out temporarily, you still have a claim on the house because it was your primary residency. If you bought the house, you also have a claim. However, this can change if you are separated for a prolonged period of time. If you establish yourself in a new residency for more than two years, the court could grant the current occupant of the house a greater portion of the marital property's worth.
Even if you move out, you still have a claim on the marital home. The length of separation could be a factor in how much of its worth is granted to you.
2. Who pays the bills while we’re separated?
If you do choose to move out, you may be required to pay spousal support depending on who has a higher net income. However, before coming to an agreement on a divorce, you will still be required to pay off your portion of a mortgage loan or rent. This keeps you financially married to your spouse even though you may be emotionally separated. That’s why it’s best to collaborate before moving out. Determine a plan for you both that is financially fair. If you choose to mediate a divorce, you can create a temporary agreement about finances. If you are unsure about whether the separation will lead to divorce, you can have a separation agreement that outlines financial responsibiltiies.
Even if physically separated, you are still required to pay off your portion of a loan or rent before the divorce is final.
3. Will it be considered abandonment if I move out?
The court will only consider the issue of abandonment if your spouse makes a claim for it, though it typically does not gain much traction unless the separation is extremely prolonged and communication almost nonexistent. If this becomes an issue, it can affect the physical custody rights you have toward your children in a divorce. This is why discussing moving out with your spouse before you make the move is important. You can make sure abandonment will not be an issue before you go to court.
Abandonment is only considered by the court if your spouse makes a claim for it, and usually is only a factor if separation is very long and communication is almost nonexistent.
4. Is there anything I should do while separated to help my divorce?
If you are going through litigation, a contested divorce can last many months if not years. This is one reason you might want to consider mediation if moving out is an issue. Mediation can be as fast as six months and may eliminate the need for you to make a total move out. Keeping the status quo will also minimize the legal complications around your divorce. If you still choose to move, look for a place where your children can stay as well. You want to keep communication during a separation so you stay a primary parent - not the parent they visit.
Keeping the status quo with living arrangements during divorce can minimize legal complications.
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The information in this article is based on information from Preparing for Divorce, a podcast sponsored by Main Line Family Law Center, in partnership with Divorce Essentials. It does not constitute or substitute for legal advice.