What Happens to the Family Home During a Divorce in Maryland?
We all know the familiar saying that “A House is not a Home”. The structure that we humans live in becomes a “home” when there is family, security and love that exists within the walls. A “home” is where one feels secure and cared for, where it is ok to close the door and shut out the world. This phrase takes on significant meaning in the midst of a contested divorce case between two spouses fighting over the “home” that somehow became a “house”. In my family law firm in Columbia, MD, I constantly encounter the issue of what to do with the family home incident to a divorce in Maryland. This decision is typically loaded with stress and conflict, not to mention the deep emotional attachment and financial responsibility that one or both spouses may have to the family home.
Divorce in Maryland: What’s the Definition of the Family Home? | Howard County Divorce Lawyers
When facing a divorce in Maryland, whether the family lives in Howard County, MD or elsewhere, it is critical to have a clear understanding of what is, and what is not, considered the “family home” under Maryland divorce law. Under Family Law Section 8-201:
- The family home is the principal residence of the parties in a case.
- The family home must have been used as the principal residence of the parties when they lived together.
- The family home must be owned or leased by one or both of the parties at the time of the divorce proceedings.
- The family home must be used, or will be used, as the principal residence by one or both of the parties and at least one child.
- The family home does not include property acquired before the marriage or by inheritance or gift from a third party, nor can it be property that has been excluded by a valid agreement.
Based on the above, the term “family home” can sometimes take on a contrary meaning during a divorce in Maryland. For example, if, prior to marriage, the Wife purchased the home that her husband and four children currently live in, and the Wife never added the Husband’s name to the Deed, the family’s house cannot not be considered the “family home” by legal definition during a divorce in Maryland, since the property was acquired before the marriage.
The Family Home: A Child-Centered Concept Promoting Stability During Divorce in Maryland
It’s important to understand that the ultimate goal of Maryland’s statutes relating to the family home is to stabilize the environment of the child(ren) in the family. The intention is to permit the child(ren) to continue living in the setting in which they are familiar incident to a divorce in Maryland. At a time which can be volatile and contentious, the children have the greatest need for a stable environment.
In the preamble to the statute on property distribution in divorce and annulment actions, Maryland’s General Assembly declared that both spouses owed each other a duty to use his/her best efforts toward the success of the marriage. Likewise, when a marriage is dissolved, the property interests of the spouses should be adjusted fairly and equitably, with careful consideration being given to both the monetary and non-monetary contributions made by the respective spouses to the well-being of the family. Further, the preamble states that if there are minor children in the family, their interests must be given special and favorable attention. This last part is particularly important to this discussion.
Use and Possession Orders
Incident to a divorce in Maryland, the Courts have the power to distribute assets acquired during the marriage, and grant monetary award and “Use and Possession” orders to adjust what may be an unfair result to a spouse. The Court can award use and possession of the family home and/or personal property without regard to how it is titled, leased or owned. When awarding use and possession, the Maryland Court endeavors to make an equitable (not necessarily 50/50) distribution of the property.
For example, consider the instance of a married couple with children who live in a rented apartment, but only one spouse is on the lease. In this case, the apartment is considered the family home. But, what happens during a divorce in Maryland if the spouse who is on the lease leaves, and the non-leaseholding spouse continues to live in the apartment with the kids? How does the spouse who stays prevent the leaseholding spouse from returning to the apartment during the divorce? The answer is that the spouse who stayed in the home can seek a use and possession order from the Courts.
A Maryland judge can make determinations related to the family home, and that decision, whether temporary or final, may not exceed a three-year period. So, for example, a Maryland judge can order one or both parties to be responsible financially for the family home or the “family use personal property” (i.e., cars, appliances, furniture, etc.). This means, for example, that a Wife may be made responsible for paying the monthly rent on the family apartment, or a Husband could be ordered to pay for the car note on the family caravan that the Wife uses to transport the children.
Seek Professional Counsel Immediately When Facing a Divorce in Maryland
A divorce in Maryland can be a complicated, emotional process – especially when there are children and a family home involved. Howard County Divorce Attorney Fred L. Coover, Esquire has been practicing Family Law for over 30 years. To seek his experienced professional advice, contact Coover Law Firm, LLC today at (410) 995-1100 to schedule your free initial consultation at our Columbia, MD office (10500 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 420, Columbia, MD 21044). We look forward to serving you.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post is provided for general educational & informational purposes only. It is not intended to convey legal advice or serve as a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.