Leaving the family home is expensive and time-consuming. It puts the person who leaves out of touch with bills that need to be paid and the concerns of minor children. The COVID-19 pandemic adds an extra layer of problems. The departing party needs to take great care to not infect children and their former partner. The departing party may be saddled with the majority of the work to disinfect the home.
A person who is considering leaving the family home should create a bulleted list of pros and cons about this choice. They should list serious incidents they had with their former partner on another piece of paper. They should then share both documents with their attorney. Their attorney can advise them on the financial and emotional advantages and disadvantages of leaving the family home. In certain cases, it may be appropriate for the attorney to consult an accountant to develop a two or three-year outlook for the client’s financial future.
Typical pros and cons
When spouses are fighting, leaving the family home seems like the only option. Yet under certain situations, leaving the family home can lead to more arguments. If the partners have several minor children or a child with special needs, a departure can become a sore point.
Typical disadvantages of leaving a primary residence include not being on top of bills, repairs, or insurance concerns relating to the house and not being available to the other residents in case of an emergency. When spouses have children, disadvantages include not being able to spend as much time with the children, the children not being comfortable in the party’s new unit, not having enough space for the children in the new unit, and concerns about which school district the children will now attend.
A judge always makes decisions about custody with the best interests of the child in mind. The party who leaves the primary residence should be mindful that the children will likely benefit from staying in the family home as much as possible. This helps keep them in the same school district, attending the same after-school programs, and visiting the same friends.
Costs associated with leaving
Costs related to leaving the family home include a security deposit on and monthly rent for an additional residence, renter’s insurance or homeowner’s insurance and a home warranty policy for the new residence, a homeowner or condominium association fee for the new residence, an assurance deposit for new after-school care, gas and commuting time between the parents’ residences, furniture for the new residence, moving costs, and other costs associated with establishing a new residence, such as a purchase of a gym membership or gym equipment for the new residence. COVID-19-related costs for a new residence include cleaning supplies and time to clean the new residence.
Options to reduce costs
Options to decrease the cost of moving out include living with parents or other relatives, to save on rent, a security deposit, and perhaps childcare. A party can also move into an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), junior ADU, trailer, or RV on the property of the family home or into a secondary residence that the parties own, such as a vacation cabin. Parents may consider the option of “bird-nesting,” where children remain in the family home and parents alternate living there. The parents may get a small apartment that they also share. If the family home is large enough, it may work to divide the space into separate areas.
Abuse warrants a restraining order
When a former partner is being abusive to an individual or children, it is appropriate for an individual to consider getting a restraining order against them. This can give the petitioner, the person who files the restraining order, the right to exclude the former partner from the family home. A restraining order may also give the petitioner sole custody over the children. Such an arrangement can affect child custody and child support proceedings.
Incidents such as damaging a former partner’s personal property, badmouthing a former partner, and hitting a former partner will be reasons for a judge to issue a restraining order. Incidents such as physically disciplining a child, accidentally losing a former spouse’s personal property, and confronting the former spouse about what they need to do to care for the children and the home may not be reasons for a judge to issue a restraining order. A party should consult an attorney about the potential consequences of a former partner’s actions. A former partner’s disregard for COVID-19-related safety protocol can be used against them in court.
Judges and magistrates are aware of the power that a restraining order can have. A party should not attempt to start a confrontation. They should be honest and reasonable when engaging with a former partner. If an individual acts in an extreme way, the judge may see the person’s behavior as manipulative, unreasonable, and false.
Ways to find a solution
Former spouses may be interested in talking to a mediator to settle out certain issues, including issues related to COVID-19 safety. They should speak to an accountant about how to manage shared financial obligations, such as utilities, mortgages, and bills. A party who is the primary earner should look to avoid a “status quo order,” an order from a judge to continue to pay the same bills for marital expenses that they did before a separation.
One upside to a move-out
If it is inevitable that a party has to move out, there may be positive outcomes. For example, when the party who stays in the primary residence is able to handle financial matters and home maintenance on their own, their former partner may ultimately need to pay less in spousal support. A person who believes their former partner is intentionally mismanaging finances and home maintenance should hire a forensic accountant to examine their former partner’s actions. A party should talk with their Birmingham divorce attorney about how to track their spouse’s path to financial independence.