One of the most common questions asked of divorce lawyers in Charleston SC is “should I leave the house?” The decision as to who stays and who goes from the marital home can be complicated by a number of different factors:
Is personal safety an issue?
A marriage under stress resulting from physical abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, or abusive and demeaning behavior calls for personal safety to be the first consideration. If you find yourself in a living situation where your physical well-being and/or your mental health is a risk, don’t stay there. The matter can be resolved later, but if you are attacked, scared of attack, or otherwise in harm’s way, don’t stay there. Get out and ask for the help of family, friends, police.
Once I leave the home will I be able to go back?
A spouse who must leave their home because of the danger within it often asks if they are jeopardizing their hopes to keep the house by making this move. The short answer is “no.” The long answer is that it may take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to get you back into the house. Also to be considered is whether or not you will ever be safe in a house which the abuser considers to be his or her own.
Worth mentioning is that anything you imagine could happen, probably will. There are many books which preach to victims (yes, mostly to women) to listen to their own misgivings, their sense of fear, whatever it is that makes the hair on the back of their necks stand up, and follow through on those feelings. Don’t ignore warning signs, the most reliable of which is that if you have been hit once, you will be hit again; once that line has been crossed, it is wide open forever.
If I leave the home, have I abandoned any claim to it?
Commonly, the question becomes one of timing, or fear of being shown to have abandoned the home and therefore abandoned it (and any claim to it). This is a reasonable thought, but one easily vanquished: any asset, such as a house, which was purchased during the marriage and is titled to one spouse or the other, or to both, is going to be presumed to be marital property and thus divisible by the Family Court. There are some exceptions, and there are some qualifications, but this is the general rule. When you leave the home because you must, or because you and your spouse agree that you cannot live together further, or for whatever reason, you do not give up your claim to this marital asset.
You should consult a trusted and experienced divorce lawyer in Charleston SC on your expectations before you make any move, if you have time. If you are in danger, don’t wait for a consultation – get out first, and save your health and your sanity.
Any discussion of leaving the marital home is incomplete, in families with children, without considering the impact on the children. This topic will be addressed in a forthcoming post.