On March 18, 2014, more than 40 members of the bar gathered at Christopher Daniel Restaurant in Cockeysville to hear Leon Berg speak about how and whether a non-titled spouse may be removed from the marital home. For attorneys regularly practicing family law, the issue arises with some frequency. Very often the titled spouse – the one on the deed – would be willing to move out to start the marital separation but cannot because he or she is the only obligor on the mortgage, which would then go unpaid by the spouse who remained. Very few have the financial assets to pay their own rent and a mortgage on a home they do not reside in. Many attorneys – recognizing this can be a game of chicken to see which spouse will make the other more miserable to force the other out of the home – search for a better way to proceed. Fortunately, Mr. Berg was able to shed light on this complicated area of law.
Beginning with a brief review of the basic tenets of property ownership, he reminded his listeners that a property owner has dominion over property that is subject to ownership. Ownership of property suggests a collection of rights to possess, use and enjoy it, including the right to sell and transfer it. By defining real property as “marital,” no possessory rights or other rights of ownership are created. Mr. Berg pointed out that a party who is not on the deed will not be entitled to seek legal ownership of real property at any stage of a domestic proceeding.
According to Mr. Berg, a wrongful detainer action in District Court under section 14-132 of the Real Property Article would be the appropriate way to ask the court to remove a non-titled spouse from the home. However, he said, this provision would not apply if a court had awarded the spouse use and possession of the home. Also, since wrongful detainer is an action at law, there may be a question as to whether the party would be entitled to a jury trial. As the right to a jury trial kicks in when the amount in controversy exceeds $10,000, it must be argued that the value of the tenants continued possession is less than $10,000.
Mr. Berg’s 22 page hand-out thoroughly and expertly discussed the ins and outs of this complicated issue for those seeking relief on behalf of their clients.
The food at Christopher Daniel was, as usual, delicious. The service was great, the company was pleasant and there were no dark, forbidding roads with dashing deer to negotiate on the way home. Once again, the monthly Family Law Committee Dinner meeting was a success.