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The Divorcing Ex Who Won’t Leave or… Disappears

During divorce, there is the phenomenon of the disappearing spouse, in which one party literally drops out of sight and stops communicating. This often happens at critical moments, such as when the settlement documents are awaiting signatures or when the buyer needs to take a final walk-through. The motive for this behavior may be despair, […]

Laurel Starks
Laurel Starks is a divorce real estate specialist. Trained in both mediation and collaborative divorce methods, she speaks frequently on real estate and divorce issues to legal and alternative disputes resolution groups.

During divorce, there is the phenomenon of the disappearing spouse, in which one party literally drops out of sight and stops communicating. This often happens at critical moments, such as when the settlement documents are awaiting signatures or when the buyer needs to take a final walk-through.

The motive for this behavior may be despair, fear, depression, or sheer revenge; whatever the reason, it makes it hard to get things done. Patience and persistence are helpful in overcoming this challenge, but they may not be enough when there are hard deadlines looming—such as a close-of-escrow date or the expiration of a loan approval.

“I’m Not Leaving!” 

Sometimes the in-spouse simply refuses to vacate the property. The out-spouse may have allowed the ex to stay as an act of compassion, only to see the arrangement become permanent by default. When that happens the court may assert control and order an eviction, and the process can be swift and brutal.

Normal eviction proceedings between a tenant and landlord require a series of legal steps, which may allow the occupants to remain in the property for weeks or months. That’s not always the case when a family court orders an eviction. In California where I practice, as soon as the judge slams the gavel, that decision is immediately enforceable.

In the cases I’ve been involved with, the deadline is typically forty-eight or seventy-two hours. The out-spouse can take the court order, go to the property—perhaps with a sheriff’s deputy, change the locks, and it’s done. This may take place even before the house is sold, if the in-spouse is impeding the sale of the property or otherwise ignoring the court’s rulings. The lesson is: the court will do whatever is necessary to enforce its decisions. It doesn’t pay to defy a court order.