Written by Jessica Palmer

Solicitor at Streathers

Jessica has experience with a range of private Family Law matters including issues arising out of divorce, child contact/residence disputes and domestic violence. The article was co-written by Jessica and her colleague Hannah Sisk a consultant with experience in all areas of family law.

Upon separation, it can often be tempting to leave the family home to avoid tension and conflict but there are a number of reasons why you should think very carefully before doing so. It can cause various issues financially, practically and emotionally which you should always consider before deciding to leave.

Economy of scale

Unless you are able to stay with friends or family, you will have to pay rent and utilities on a second property which for many people is unaffordable and the money spent will not be recoverable at a later stage. This situation could continue for a prolonged period of time which could lead to significant debts being incurred. This is not in anyone’s best interests as it decreases the amount of assets available to meet both parties’needs.

If you are thinking of leaving the home as a result of your spouse’s abusive behaviour then you should seek advice first on whether you could apply for an occupation order which forces them to leave and allows you to stay in the home.

Practical and emotional consequences

If you have children and they remain with your spouse in the family home then in some cases it can lead to difficulties with contact arrangements. You are no longer seeing your children every day and the parent they are living with is likely to automatically be seen as the primary carer which could put you at a disadvantage should there ever be a dispute about who the children should live with. The children will also have emotional ties to the family home so it can lead to them preferring to spend more time there than in temporary accommodation they are not used to.

If your spouse has a new partner, there is a danger that they could end up moving into the home or spending a significant amount of time there. This could create an increased level of hostility between you and your spouse which in turn impacts upon the children.

You will lose control over the practical care of the home which could lead to it deteriorating into a state of disrepair and there being a decrease in value of the property, the loss of which you would struggle to recover in the long run. As well as the deterioration in value, it could also make the property more difficult to sell leaving you in a state of limbo for a longer period of time.

If the property is to be sold as part of the financial settlement, the spouse living there could cause difficulties with arranging viewings and presenting the property for sale which can create further delay.

Many people leave the property without taking all of their personal belongings with them. This is usually for practical reasons such as lack of storage or the means to transport them. However, you may find that it becomes tricky to get these items back as they are no longer in your possession. Although legally you own them, you could face yourself being denied access to obtain them or they could be disposed of without your permission. Often these items have sentimental value and cannot be replaced.

Tactical implications

Often you can end up being ‘out of sight out of mind.’ The spouse remaining in the property can lose all incentive and impetus to resolve the longer term financial issues because they remain comfortable where they are.

If this is the case, you could find yourself having to make an application to court for the property to be sold or transferred which is not only a long process but can also costs thousands of pounds. If you are in the home still, you are more likely to ensure that your spouse has the same desire to resolve matters sooner rather than later for the benefit of everyone involved.

Are there other options?

It is important to consider whether there are any other options available to you first before moving out of the home. For example, is there a spare room? Are you able to shift the living arrangements around to accommodate sleeping somewhere else?

If you are thinking of leaving the home as a result of your spouse’s abusive behaviour then you should seek advice first on whether you could apply for an occupation order which forces them to leave and allows you to stay in the home.

Steps to take if you feel you have no option but to move out

Be sure of your legal standing with the property. If your name is not on the legal title then you must register your matrimonial home rights over the property.

Gather any documents for you and the children that you think you may need going forward such as your marriage certificate, birth certificate, bank statements etc.  It is also useful to take an inventory of items that are there when you leave and you should take any personal items, particularly those of sentimental value, in case your spouse disposes of them without consent. If you are an international couple then it is also important to consider where the children’s passports should be kept.

Before leaving, try and begin putting in place a pattern of time  you spend with the children i.e. certain days at the weekend or during the week. This will make the transition when you have left easier and be more natural for the children.

Ensure that your new accommodation is attractive and adequate for the children to stay in or it could create difficulties with contact going forward.

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