In a 2008 case, a husband and wife were married in North Carolina in 1994 and had two kids. The wife filed for limited divorce in 2005. The case was tried in 2006-2007. In 2007, a judgment of absolute divorce was granted on the grounds that the wife had committed adultery.
Among other things, the wife was awarded sole legal and physical custody of the children and the husband was ordered to pay child support. The husband was found in contempt for failing to pay child support previously ordered. The judge also granted the wife use and possession of the family home for two years.
The husband appealed on five grounds. One of these grounds was that the judge should not have treated the house at Alfreton Court as the family home under Family Law Article § 8-201. The judge awarded the use and possession of the residence to the wife and children under § 8-208(a), which provided that in the context of divorce, regardless of how the family home was owned or titled or leased, the judge could give one party sole possession of the property.
Under § 8-201(c)(1), however, a family home is defined as a property that was used as the principal residence of the parties when they lived together, that was owned or leased by one or both parties at the time of the divorce, and is being used or will be used as a principal residence by one or both parties and a child. The husband contended that the wife and he never lived together at the Alfreton Court property.
The wife had come to Annapolis in 2004, while the husband stayed in North Carolina. When the wife and children arrived in Annapolis, they lived first at a Radisson and then at a furnished apartment. The wife’s employer made a rental house available to her and her children at a below-market rental rate. The husband lived at the rental house at first when he came to Maryland, but did not share a bedroom with his wife. The wife eventually asked the husband to leave and when he didn’t, she left. At that point, there was no “family home.”
In 2005, the couple decided to buy the Alfreton property to own as tenants by the entirety. The wife and kids moved in. However, the husband didn’t. When he showed up and refused to leave, the wife and kids moved out to an apartment. They came back to Alfreton in 2006 when the husband moved out.
The lower court judge had found the Alfreton property was bought with the express purpose that the wife and child would live there. The father had expressed he wanted to live there after the marital problems were resolved. However, he had executed an interim agreement, designating the property as the family home.
The husband argued that he and the wife had never stayed together at Alfreton Court as husband and wife on the same night. The judge explained that because it was owned as tenants by the entireties and purchased in order for the children to live there with their mother, it was a marital home. She also ruled it was in the children’s best interests to stay in the marital home after being moved around so much.
Excluded from the definition of “family home” in Maryland are homes procured before marriage, procured by gift or inheritance or excluded by valid agreement. The appellate court explained that even if an absent spouse did not live under the roof with his wife and children, there would be no benefit to taking a stingy interpretation of a law about family homes passed for the benefit of children. It affirmed the lower court’s ruling regarding the family home.
Divorce cases can involve sensitive and difficult issues, as well as property considerations. Contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney for representation and legal guidance.
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