If you leave the marital residence you have “abandoned” it and you lose your right to equity.
The end of a marriage is an emotional time. People often wish to separate to ease tensions and to allow both spouses to adapt to the idea that their lives are changing. I am regularly asked at initial consultation about the concept of abandonment because people are told that if they leave the residence they have given up their rights. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, abandonment is a legal term meaning “[t]he surrender, relinquishment, disclaimer, or cession of property or rights.” If one spouse leaves the marital residence and establishes a new residence elsewhere, he or she has not abandoned the residence relating to a claim for a share of the equity or items of property inside. He or she has merely made an understandable accommodation to benefit both parties.
Having said that, the person who leaves the residence has a decidedly weaker claim to actually get the residence in a divorce so, if the understanding is that one person will leave for a short time and then resume residency, either exclusively or with the other spouse, the Agreement should be in writing and clearly articulated. While a person may not have legally abandoned the property, possession is still nine tenths of the law and the ramifications of leaving may be long term and unanticipated. If ultimate possession of the property is the goal, then leaving may not be abandoning, but it may still be ill-advised.