There are times in every relationship when you may consider fleeing the home or apartment where you live with your significant other. You may have entertained this once or twice over the years but decided against it each time. Why? The usual reason is that you did not believe that you were in physical danger and the cause of your discomfort, after calming down, was something that you could work out. You might have decided that you had no place to stay, especially if you have kids and you are the primary caregiver. You might have wondered how you could afford living expenses without help from your partner.
Now, a time may come when you might be facing a serious confrontation with your partner and must decide whether to leave. Here are some things you should consider.
Are you in physical danger if you stay?
If the answer is “Yes.” GET OUT. It’s comparable to remaining in a burning building. If your goal is to return, you should file a Petition for a Protection from Abuse Order or PFA order. You can file this at your local Magistrate Judge’s office or County Court of Common Pleas. Please review the county website for instructions on how, where and when to do this. This will usually force the threatening party to leave the residence for a short period of time and then a court hearing will be scheduled to determine if the separation is going to be for a longer period of time. There are shelters available for those suffering physical abuse. Take advantage of them.
Do you have money to support yourself and/or others in your care?
This seems obvious but unforeseen events can occur. For example, if you only have a joint bank account with your significant other, what do you do if the account is drained by your partner? If you have an extended stay away from the residence, then you should consider filing a complaint for spousal support (if you are married) and/or child support (if you are a parent) online or at the domestic relations office in your county. To get spousal support you must be separated and earn less than your spouse. To get child support you must be separated and usually have at least 50% of the custody time and usually make less than the other parent, although not always. Support can take 1-3 months to establish so this is not a quick fix to potential money woes. Also, the amount may not be sufficient to cover all of your bills. Please review the 5-Step Plan to Solve Your Family Matter on this website.
What happens if I am blocked from returning?
You can call the police and show them a copy of your lease/deed or driver’s license and ask them to allow you to return to the property. After all, you have a right to be on the property. If this does not work, then you may have to take action in court to force entry. You may have to file for a Petition for a PFA Order as discussed previously. You may have to file for divorce and ask the court to allow you back in the residence and/or to remove your partner from the residence. Do not try to take actions that could risk your safety.
If I have children, how is custody arranged for each parent?
In most cases, there is no formal written custody arrangement in effect because you have been living with your partner. Now that you are separated, you can create a custody arrangement without a writing, assuming you both agree. However, if one party does not like the custody arrangement, they can file a complaint for custody and ask the family court to settle the issue. A custody arrangement can take the form of a court order or a simple written agreement signed by the parties. See our 5-Step Plan to Solve Your Family Matter on this website for detailed guidance or call us.
If a divorce action has started or may shortly, how does leaving the residence affect that?
This is a big issue. If you leave, you may not get back in because a court may exclude you (i.e., award exclusive possession to the other party) reasoning that the parties are prone to fight and this fighting is risking upset to kids or physical harm to kids or parties. The court may reason that the other party may be better off in the residence for various reasons such as they have less resources to obtain other housing or they are the better parent to have custody of the kids in the house. A secondary effect of an award of exclusive possession is that custody rights and child support may be determined by this award. The party that stays in the residence may get more custody time because the children attend school in that district and the court will want to disrupt their lives as little as possible. With more custody time comes more child support and/or spousal support. There are other possible monetary benefits with exclusive possession such as help with the mortgage payment as part of child/spousal support. They say possession is nine-tenths of the law. So, if you leave the possession of the residence to your partner you may put yourself at a disadvantage with respect to rights to custody and support.
Call an attorney to review your rights and make a plan.
I often get calls from people who are in the middle of these tense moments and need advice quickly. Each case is like a fingerprint, it is unique, but planning is the best bet to a positive outcome for you. So, take the time and call an experienced family attorney before you make a decision that could have long-term negative consequences.