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Who Gets the House? How to Separate During Lockdown

Divorce can involve plenty of complications, even when the nation is stable. Managing a divorce during lockdown can make an already difficult situation that much harder. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, however. Two people can separate safely and without being accused of spousal abandonment as long as they follow a few precautions.

When separating, it’s all too easy to let your emotions get the best of you. However, rash decisions can have significant consequences, both legally and financially. Avoiding the following mistakes can help keep you safe from both the virus and from unintended legal consequences.

Don’t: Move Suddenly

While it may be tempting to move the second you find a suitable place, this is not in your best interest. In some cases, judges may be more likely to award assets like a home to the partner who remained there the entire time. Furthermore, moving suddenly may not give you the time you need to clean your new home or add new people to your bubble. It can lead to an unsafe move that may play against you during asset division.

Do: Stay In Your Home

As long as you are safe remaining in your shared home, staying put gives you the most legal options. You save the funds that would otherwise go to renting or purchasing another residence. You show that you’re willing to remain amicable in many ways. Finally, you also build evidence showing that you have an emotional attachment to the residence. As long as you are not at risk of abuse, staying in your home keeps your options open and protects you from exposure to COVID-19.

However, if you are at risk of harm, then you should move for your safety. It is more important that you remain safe than it is that you stay in your home.

Don’t: Move Without a Plan

Even if you do take the time to move safely and with notice, you may not have planned much further than that. If you have children with your spouse, you need to consider how you will remain a part of their life. Leaving your children without a good idea of how you will continue to support and parent them can be seen as a negative by a judge when awarding custody to parents.

Even if you don’t have children, leaving your home without a plan can cause problems when it comes to asset division. Leaving your spouse without their consent and intending the move to be permanent can be considered spousal abandonment. While this is no longer considered cause for a divorce, it can still sway judges during divorce settlements.

Historically, spousal abandonment was defined as the abandonment of a spouse for an extended period. The absent partner must have left without the consent of the partner who remains, and they should not be supporting the remaining spouse in some way. Finally, the absence must have been intended as permanent.

Today, Oregon is a no-fault divorce state, so it’s unnecessary to have a reason to get a divorce. As a result, spousal abandonment doesn’t affect the divorce itself. However, if a spouse abandons their partner, then divorce settlements may be decided in favor of the abandoned partner. This is especially true if the abandonment leads to financial hardship for the abandoned spouse.

Do: Discuss Your Options

If you do want to move, you should talk about the decision with your partner. Separating and living in different homes is only considered abandonment if it is non-consensual. When you and your soon-to-be-ex partner talk through the logistics of a move, it both ensures that you’re on the same page, and it gives you proof that your move was discussed and agreed upon in advance.

Furthermore, if you can discuss your separation with your partner, you can work through potential problems surrounding custody, marital property, and asset division. If two people have already worked to divide their household, a judge may find it most straightforward to divide physical assets along the lines of what each household contains.

This division may include property like real estate, vehicles, and heirlooms. It may also include things like custody agreements for your children. The more you and your former partner can work out before reaching the court, the simpler you will find the divorce process.

Don’t: Cut Contact

If you are divorcing due to disagreements with your partner, then it’s understandable if you do not want to speak with them. However, cutting contact is the wrong path. Without a clear line of communication, you may miss opportunities to discuss important aspects of the divorce. Even if you can’t bring yourself to speak with them, you should work with an attorney who can communicate on your behalf.

Do: Continue Support

A marriage is a contract in which most assets are shared. This is the case until a divorce is finalized. Your assets are shared with your spouse until the court has decided on your case, so you may not have grounds to cut off your spouse’s access to funds or other support.

If you are the higher-earning partner, you should consider continuing to support your spouse, at least in part, until the divorce is finalized. A critical aspect of spousal abandonment is the cessation of support. Cutting off your partner’s access to funds or insurance may be seen as an act of abandonment, especially if it causes them significant financial distress. This may change the outcome of your divorce settlement if it is decided in the courts. Significantly, it may lead to or increase potential spousal support payments.

Be Safe, Be Smart

During the pandemic, it’s important to consider moving or dividing households carefully. Your health and safety should be at the forefront of your mind. If you have questions or concerns about an impending separation, you can reach out to one of our qualified Oregon divorce attorneys. We can help you understand your options and their legal implications. You deserve to have an easy and low-stress divorce; let us help you make that a reality.