Will my VA divorce leave me homeless?

Getting a divorce is always a pretty scary thought, no matter who you are. Since all of the assets and liabilities from the marriage have to be divided, and because it’s very uncommon for divorced couples to continue to live together, it’s generally accepted as pretty common knowledge that both parties’ income levels will take a hit as a result of the divorce.

After all, it’s pretty simple mathematics. The income that you shared to fuel a lifestyle between the two of you will now be divided and fund two separate lifestyles. The same money has to fund two homes – two electric bills, two water bills, two internet bills, two mortgages or rent payments, and so on.

Though we talk a lot about maintaining the standard of living that the parties enjoyed during the marriage, that’s really more of an aspiration than something that is actually achievable. In all likelihood, through the divorce, you’ll both come down a little bit.
Everything isn’t split 50/50, though. For the most part, equitable distribution ensures that the assets and liabilities are split ‘equitably’ which ultimately results in something sort of like 50/50, but if the parties have really disproportionate income levels the end result can often feel anything other than ‘equitable’.

Simply put, if he earns more, chances are good that he’s going to have a better standard of living after the divorce is finalized, even after you’ve adjusted for an award of spousal support. That’s because spousal support doesn’t equalize incomes – that part is not 50/50. If he earns more, he’ll have more coming in each month (assuming that the debt isn’t totally out of control) than the spouse receiving support will.

When you combine that with the fact that something will likely have to be done with the marital residence, well, it’s a recipe for a changing lifestyle, to say the very least.

Will my Virginia divorce leave me homeless?

This is a pretty broad question with, the way I see it, a number of different answers.

Most of the time, when people are asking about homelessness, what they’re really asking me is whether, during the divorce, their husband can kick them out of the home that they’ve shared.

The answer to that question, simply – is no. While the divorce is pending, he cannot kick you out of the home unless there’s some kind of order giving him exclusive possession of the home. That is true even if the home is his – like, if he purchased it prior to marriage, you’re living in the home his parents own, or whatever other scenario. He can’t just kick you out of the marital residence.

When do people leave? It depends! Some people live separate under the same roof for the entire period of separation. Most, though, wait until there’s some kind of separation agreement or court order that will protect both their interest in the home and their interest to the personal property within it. At the point that the parties either negotiate an agreement or the judge enters an order dealing with the home, one or both parties will be freer to leave (and more financially able to do so, since that should also resolve issues related to division of the assets and support).

How would he – or I – get an order for exclusive possession?

Judges don’t give orders of exclusive possession willy nilly. If you’re both living in the house and things are fine (albeit probably quite uncomfortable), the judge almost certainly will not kick you out.

The only real exception to that is if there’s been domestic violence. Getting a protective order in place can result in your getting (or his getting) exclusive possession, and, likewise, if one of you has already moved out, the other will likely be successful in getting exclusive possession.
And anyway, unless and until the judge has ordered that one or the other of you has exclusive possession, you both have a perfect right to exist within the walls of your own home.

I also get asked the question “What if he wants to sell the house now, and have us both leave?”

Sometimes, husbands get in an all fired hurry to resolve things. They say they want to sell the home or that they want to refinance and buy their spouse out, and they want to do it now, now, NOW!

I get it. Living in limbo is uncomfortable. Men are even more uncomfortable with this than women, and they want to see some forward movement that they can understand.

I don’t think, though, that it’s reasonable to put the cart before the horse. Even assuming you sell and move – somewhere? – it would be very difficult to decide whether to rent or buy or move back in with mom and dad without knowing more about how the divorce will move forward.

In the best case scenario, you’d stay put until you negotiate an agreement or the judge issues an order. Not because you can’t move, if you want to (though I’d always be wary of desertion and abandonment), but because it’s difficult to make decisions like that without a clear financial picture. How do you know what you can and can’t afford if you don’t have things like child support and spousal support established? It seems awfully quick to make big decisions, and rife with potential for creating all sorts of new problems.

The third question, I think, is the worst: What if, after my divorce, I can’t afford anything and ultimately find myself homeless?

I think this is more an irrational fear than anything else. It’s a legitimate one, for sure – because terrible things can happen.
But I would argue that, for women who take the time to educate themselves about their rights and entitlements under Virginia law, it’s probably not likely. Of course, if you come in to our office and you and your husband are already homeless, well, that’s kind of a different situation.

But for people who already own a home or rent a home, getting up to date, Virginia specific information about the divorce process will help you to make sure that you make choices that keep you off the streets. A biggie?

NEVER SIGN A SEPARATION AGREEMENT WITHOUT HAVING IT REVIEWED BY AN ATTORNEY.

The worst cases I’ve ever seen – like, the real divorce horror stories – happen when people sign agreements without reading, understanding, or having them reviewed by someone who could help them understand. Those are the cases where tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, of assets or retirement or support that they would otherwise have been entitled to are lost, often forever.

Terrible things can happen in a divorce, but the more you take control of the situation, ask questions, and get the information you need, the better off you’ll be. And, to ease your worries: I don’t know of a single client of mine who ever wound up homeless.
For more information, to request a copy of our divorce book, to register for our monthly online divorce seminar, or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

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