One of the most significant decisions individuals face when going through a divorce (or a “dissolution of marriage” as it is legally referred to in Florida) is whether to vacate the marital home. This choice can have far-reaching legal implications and requires careful consideration. One need only reference the ongoing, high-profile Kevin Costner divorce case, where the refusal to vacate the marital home has become a significant point of contention, to get an idea of the numerous factors involved. Although the Costner case is taking place under California jurisdiction, in this article, we will discuss the legalities surrounding vacating the marital home specifically within the context of Florida law. These considerations are generally relevant to most such cases and shed light on the key factors that spouses need to weigh.
Marital Assets & Property Division
When couples go through a dissolution of marriage, the division of their marital home becomes a critical aspect in determining the allocation of assets and debts. This cannot be understated, as the marital home often represents the most substantial shared asset between the parties.
In Florida, the division of marital assets follows the principle of equitable distribution. This means that marital property is divided fairly, but not necessarily equally, between the spouses.
Vacating the marital home does not automatically forfeit one’s right to a fair share of the property. However, the absence from the home can complicate the evaluation and division process. Seeking legal guidance is essential to protect one’s interests and ensure a fair division of property.
In certain scenarios, one spouse may have acquired the house prior to the marriage. In such cases, the house may be regarded as a non-marital asset. In other cases, couples may have purchased a home just before or during their marriage, with the intention of creating a shared life together as a married couple. In these instances, the house is considered a marital asset.
Under Florida law, when a married couple buys a home, the property is subject to a legal arrangement known as “tenancy by the entireties.” This type of ownership is exclusive to married couples, and the deed reflects the couple’s marital status at the time of purchase. However, upon the dissolution of the marriage, this is terminated, and both parties become joint tenants of the property.
Regardless of whether the house is deemed a non-marital or marital asset, both parties technically possess 100% ownership of the property. When the house is eventually sold, the equity is typically divided equally, unless unique circumstances exist that warrant a more substantial portion awarded to one party.
How Prenuptial Agreements Can Influence the Decision to Vacate a Marital Home
In the Kevin Costner case, a prenuptial agreement established key terms related to Costner’s rights to the $145 million California compound that he shared with his estranged wife, Christine Baumgartner, which he owned before they married.
A prenuptial agreement, also referred to as a premarital agreement, is a legally binding contract entered into by spouses before marriage that outlines how certain assets and issues will be addressed in the event of a divorce.
Under Florida law, a properly executed and enforceable prenuptial agreement can significantly affect the division of assets during a divorce, including the marital home. The terms of the prenuptial agreement can prevail over default state laws governing property division, as long as the agreement meets certain legal requirements.
A key consideration when assessing the impact of a prenuptial agreement on vacating the marital home is whether the agreement addresses the division or disposition of the property. A well-drafted prenuptial agreement may contain provisions specifying how the marital home will be allocated, sold, or retained by one spouse in the event of a divorce. This can provide clarity and guidance on the appropriate course of action when deciding whether to vacate the home. This turned out to be the case in the Costner divorce, as Baumgartner was ordered to move out under the terms of the agreement.
Spousal Support, Child Support & Visitation
Although property division may be the first factor that comes to mind when deciding whether to vacate a home during a divorce, it is far from the only one. It is also crucial to assess the potential impact that doing so may have on child custody/time-sharing, and related financial matters such as spousal support and child support.
In the Costner case, Baumgartner stated that her delay in leaving the couple’s home after she filed for divorce following 18 years of marriage, due to “irreconcilable differences”, was settling upon a child support agreement. Although Baumgartner has been ordered to leave the residence, details about the final custody and support agreements have not been settled.
When children are involved, the decision to vacate the marital home can significantly impact child custody proceedings. In Florida, courts prioritize the “best interests of the child” in determining custody arrangements. By vacating the home, a spouse may inadvertently signal a willingness to relinquish custodial rights or risk an unfavorable custody arrangement.
The same applies to spousal support and child support. Florida courts consider various factors, including each spouse’s financial resources and earning capacity, when determining spousal support. In some cases, leaving the marital home without establishing alternative living arrangements may affect the court’s assessment of financial need. Similarly, child support calculations take into account the income and expenses of both parents.
While the Costner case falls under California jurisdiction, it highlights the strategic considerations that divorcing couples face when deciding whether to vacate the marital home. For all of these reasons, it is vital to consult with a local, knowledgeable family law attorney who can help navigate these complex decisions by ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the potential implications.
At Parra Harris Law, our expertise in Florida Family Law and divorce proceedings can provide you with invaluable guidance and protects your rights throughout the process. We can help assess your unique circumstances, explain your legal options, and develop a strategic approach that aligns with your goals for you and your family. Contact us, today.