It may seem that a “matrimonial home” is just the one house in which a married couple lives. However, when it comes to divorce proceedings, the definition of matrimonial home and how it’s treated by the court are usually hotly contested, as the rights that spring from such a designation are extremely important and often have a ripple effect on the spouses and their marital estate.
In legal terms, the home in which a married couple lives prior to the date of their separation is known as the matrimonial home. Additionally, if the spouses regularly occupy more than one home together before they separate, each individual abode is usually considered to be a matrimonial home. Furthermore, a matrimonial home doesn’t have to be a house. Rather, it can include a condominium, a ski chalet, a cottage, or even a sailboat that has places to sleep and eat. The team from Divorce Options San Diego—the experts couples turn to for San Diego divorce mediation that’s conducted with integrity and compassion—offers the following four essential tips for getting divorced when you own more than one home.
1. Determine or Designate Extra Matrimonial Home(s)
There’s a broad definition as to whether each property is regularly occupied at the time of separation. Continual occupancy isn’t the standard. Rather, the test is whether the property has been occupied periodically as a family residence prior to separation. For example, the court will likely designate a vacation property as a matrimonial home if the property was used by the spouses or any other members of the family within a reasonable time before the separation. Also, not every part of the property needs to have been used (e.g., a farm).
2. Request Exclusive Possession
Regardless of which spouse owns the matrimonial home upon separation, either spouse can ask the court to grant him or her “exclusive possession.” If the request is granted, that spouse will have the exclusive right to live in the home and evict the other spouse during the period of exclusive possession (assuming the other spouse doesn’t leave voluntarily). In addition, if only one spouse owns the home, the owner-spouse cannot sell or mortgage it without the consent of the other spouse, both prior to and after any separation. The main reason for this is to prevent any trickery by either spouse.
3. Be Wary of Common Misconceptions
Probably the most common misconception is the belief that matrimonial homes are required to be equally divided at separation. In many jurisdictions, the courts generally view the matrimonial home as just one asset of many that are subject to equal division. One exception is that if the owner-spouse sells the home and buys another home with the sale proceeds, the owner-spouse can keep all the equity from the original home, and it won’t be subject to division.
4. Look for a Marriage Contract
The spouse who owns the home at the time of marriage can protect his or her equity by having a contract for that purpose. However, the contract cannot allow the owner-spouse to have exclusive possession of the matrimonial home if there’s a separation. That issue has to be brought before the court for a determination.
Owning multiple homes can complicate the divorce process, but it doesn’t have to. If you’re looking for an alternative to the contentious, attorney-centered manner in which divorces are usually handled, call on the trustworthy professionals at Divorce Options San Diego. We’re experienced San Diego divorce mediators who can help you dissolve your marriage in a fair way based on mutual respect, leaving both parties satisfied and ready to move on with their lives. Give us a call today at (858) 281-2628 to learn more.