After the Divorce: Removing Property from the Marital Home

removing property from the marital home

Removing property from the marital home represents a prospective issue during many stages of marital separation and divorce. In some cases, the real problem becomes what constitutes separate property or marital property. Of course, animosity results in varying opinions. However, what happens when the judge rules on equitable distribution?

First, when people separate, they may decide to remove property from the marital home to set up a new residence. No doubt, disputes can arise as far as what you or your spouse consider personal property. Obviously, something like your clothing isn’t subject to equitable distribution and not an issue.

In the meantime, not everything you’d like to take will ultimately count as separate property. For example, you may decide that you want to remove all the furniture from your home to set up your new apartment. This obviously leaves your spouse with no place to sleep or sit to relax.

On the other hand, if you both have separate vehicles, it seems reasonable to take your own car. After all, how else can you back and forth to work?

This same logic extends to when you have children and take them along with you. You’ll need to ensure they have beds and clothing of their own.

The big things like artwork and collectible items can wait when it comes to equitable distribution. Truth be told, there’s something else both parties need to consider. Why not take photographs or videos of anything removed from the premises?

Removing Property from the Marital Home After the Divorce

Notably, either or both parties could dispute the removal of property before the divorce finalizes.  For example, you could come home to rooms devoid of furniture. While that’s undoubtedly devastating, you should make an inventory based on your immediate recollection of the contents of your house.  And, of course, pictures speak volumes.

However, some people wait for the divorce itself when it comes to splitting up marital assets of any kind. In some cases, you and your former spouse might somewhat amicably come to a decision concerning division of your property. In that case, the judge reviews your marital separation agreement and determines if it makes sense.

Real estate doesn’t pose the only issue when there’s a problem with dividing marital property. Believe it or not, some parties take stock of basic objects like teaspoons and forks. Of course, in high net income divorces, items may have more monetary value.

Meanwhile, there’s something else to consider. Whether the judge divides the property, or you decide on it leads to another issue. Shouldn’t there be a timeline as far as removing it? An indefinite time period suggests a continuation of a relationship that’s ended.

Case Involved Removal of Six Automobiles

All things considered, not every couple accumulates six automobiles during their marriage. However, this represented a major issue in the matter of D.A.W. v. W.G.W., a case decided by the New Jersey Appellate Division just last week.

Remarkably, the court elected to use the initials of the parties to protect their identities. Additionally, this decision constitutes a non-precedential opinion as it doesn’t address new law. Nonetheless, it is binding on the parties.

The couple married in 1982 and separated in 2015. D.A.W. continued to live in the marital home after the separation. Ultimately, their divorce went through in  2017 and incorporated the terms of a property settlement agreement (PSA).

As part of the PSA, the parties agreed that W.A.W. would retain exclusive ownership of both the six vehicles and a car trailer. That said, he needed to pick them within thirty days of the signed agreement.

In the meantime, both D.A.W. and W.A.W. concurred on other items on the household that warranted his removal from the marital home. However, W.A.W. left open the idea that he might have missed other property ultimately subject to equitable distribution. He reserved the right to inventory the personal property as it related to equitable distribution.

Apparently, the Final Judgment of Divorce included a restraining order. When it was time for W.A.W. to enter the marital home, both of the party’s attorneys were ordered to be present. This would involve both the removal of the property and its inventory.

According to the case history, W.A.W. didn’t comply with the requirements set by the court. Subsequently, D.A.W. filed a motion to enforce litigant’s rights. She also asked for counsel fees and costs.

Defendant Failed to Obey the Court Order

When the court ruled on D.A.W.’s request, it gave W.A.W. an additional ten days to perform the inventory and remove the personal property. The judge also awarded D.A.W.’s lawyer $900.

Once again, W.A.W. failed to conform with the court order. As a result, D.A.W. repeated her prior efforts. Defendant requested reconsideration of the prior ruling but did not receive the answer he assuredly wanted.

This time, the trial court gave permission for D.A.W. permission to dispose of any of the property W.A.W. left at the marital residence. Additionally, W.A.W. was expected to pay for the cost of removal within five days of notification of the expectations. The court declined to order payment of D.A.W.’s counsel fees related to this application due to the failure to supply a certification of services.

Notably, W.A.W. suggested that the reason he didn’t go to pick up his things was that he had physical limitations. However, he relied on an uncertified letter from his physician to back up his assertions.

Truth be told, it didn’t stop there. D.A.W. needed to go back to court on the two prior court orders. Ultimately, the judge decided that W.A.W. “had the ability to comply but failed to do so.”

In response to the latest court application, the judge ordered W.A.W. to supply D.A.W. with the titles to all of the six vehicles left behind at the marital residence.  Furthermore, the court decided that D.A.W. should receive attorneys’ fees for this appearance and the one immediately prior.

The judge took it a step further. Perhaps suspecting that W.A.W. would again ignore the order to supply titles for the vehicle, the judge authorized the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to issue titles in D.A.W.’s name. Unfortunately, the predications came true and D.A.W. received the titles, which allowed her to dispose of the vehicles.

On Appeal

It’s unclear how long it took the defendant to appeal the trial’s court’s decisions. He claimed that the judge abused its discretion by ordering forfeiture of the property. In support, he cited medical conditions and procedures that precluded him from conducting the inventory and removing his property.

Citing the multiple times W.A.W. failed to comply with the court’s order, the Appellate Division found no abuse of discretion. Even if he couldn’t do it himself, the court found he could have asked others for assistance.

The Appellate Division affirmed the ruling made by the lower court. Timing represents a critical issue when it comes to removing property from the marital home.

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The Law Offices of Sam Stoia can assist you with your divorce or questions regarding equitable division. Please contact our office to schedule an appointment.

After the Divorce: Removing Property from the Marital Home