Home ownership doesn't require that you actually live in the house. If your name is on the deed, you have an ownership interest in it, and moving out doesn't change that. However, leaving can affect your rights in other ways.
Equity in the Home
If you move out, it doesn't mean a judge will automatically give the house to your wife if you divorce. Courts base decisions regarding marital property on a wide range of factors, and the issue of who's currently living in the home typically doesn't matter much, at least by itself. If your wife does get the house, you have a right to compensation for at least some of its equity. She might have to make a cash payment to you for your share of the equity, or give up other assets equal in value to your portion.
Moving Back In
Although leaving won't affect your ownership rights, you might find that you've lost your right to live in the house if you move out. Your wife would have to make a very good case to the court -- such as by proving abuse -- to convince a judge to give her exclusive possession of the home if you don't want to leave. You're part owner, after all, and you have a right to live there. If you move out, however, this changes the status quo. After you've left, a court might be more reluctant to issue an order forcing your wife to let you move back in pending the divorce. Technically, you have a legal right to be there because you're on the deed, so you can force your way back in. But doing so might not cast you in a particularly favorable light with the court.
If you have kids and they stay in the house with your wife, moving out can affect your ability to see them. If the court hasn't issued a custody order yet, you're at the mercy of your wife regarding when and how you can spend time with them.
Moving out means supporting two separate households. If your name is on the mortgage, you're responsible for paying it, even if you're also paying rent somewhere else. Your new home also sets a precedent for a divorce judge's eventual decision regarding support issues, and how much money you and your wife each need to live on. If you move into pricey new digs, a judge might think you don't mind paying for your own high-priced living expenses and contributing to your wife's household too. If you rent a shack, a judge might take it to mean that you're content with that, and that you don't require anything more.
Just as your house belongs to both you and your wife, and just as you both have a right to it, you also both have a right to the furniture, appliances and everything else inside it. If you decide to leave, you can't remove half the furniture and take it along with you, at least not unless your wife agrees. It's marital property, and in most cases, you must leave it where it is until the court can make a decision regarding who gets what. If you move out, you might find yourself starting over somewhere new with nothing but your suitcase.
- Johnson Sauer Legal Group: When to Move Out of the Marital Home
- DivorceNet.com: Colorado Divorce -- Should You Move Out of the Family Home?
- Robin Roshkind: What Happens if I Move Out?
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