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Should I Move Out, And If So, How, Pending a Minnesota Divorce or Child Custody Case?
Clients often ask whether they should move out of the marital home prior to or during the commencement of divorce proceedings. The answer is very clear: “it depends”. Generally speaking, if child custody, parenting time, or possession of the home might be an issue in the proceedings, I advise against it. Although no legal precedent is created by moving out, the lawyer for the remaining occupant routinely argues that:
“1. Custody should be awarded to my client because he or she is already living in the house which has been the children’s home, so for the sake of continuity and stability for the children, let’s leave well enough alone and not disrupt the situation with more moves.
2. Possession of the home should be awarded to my client because he or she is already living there, and the other spouse has already moved out, so why force them to move all over again?”
Such arguments are made both in support of temporary as well as permanent relief. Such arguments do not always carry the day, but it is often a consideration that influences judges, even if they deny it. If custody is in issue or you really want to keep the house, try to stay put until the temporary relief hearing, which is your first opportunity to legally compel the other party to move out.
If you do need to move out of the home immediately because it is an abusive or otherwise insufferable situation for yourself or the children, the following precautions should be considered:
1. If custody or parenting time is in issue, don’t move out without first getting an enforceable written stipulation addressing custody and parenting time after the move-out. The key is to have in place at least an interim parenting time schedule which affords you at least as much parenting time as you hope to obtain through the court. Otherwise, the longer you acquiesce to a pattern of parenting time that is less than you desire, the more of an argument the other party will make of it against you. Often arguments like the following are heard:
“Your Honor, the Petitioner moved out four months ago, and since then he has only had the children every other weekend, by his own acquiescence. Now all of a sudden he wants custody [or more parenting time, as the case may be]. This is clearly a disingenuous request which should be summarily denied. The schedule the parties have been following has worked well for the children, and for the sake of their sense of stability and continuity, it should continue.”
After the elapse of a period of time, nobody much cares if the reason you only had every other weekend was because the other parent truly wouldn’t “let” you have more time. Although that may very well be the case, and although you may have let your spouse control the situation in order to spare the children the trauma of parental conflict, in my experience the courts are more swayed by the pattern of contact rather than by these “excuses.” The wisdom of Solomon does not apply. 
2. Take with you all of the household goods and furnishings, and other items of personal property which you want to have, and inventory what you take. Although it is not a law, the old adage “possession is nine tenths of the law” is very applicable here. The reason boils down to the fact that litigating personal property issues is usually prohibitively expensive, because it normally costs more to litigate than the stuff is worth. So if you ever want to see it again, it is much simpler and easier to take it with you when you leave. [Caveat: don’t get too greedy. If you empty the place out and leave the spouse and children to sleep and eat on a bare concrete floor, you will not look good].
1. 1 Kings 3:16-28.