Exclusive Possession

Many parties in the process of separating are anxious to find out how they can get the other party out of a shared residence. For married individuals, a decision on which party will keep a marital property will not come until the end of the divorce matter and in the interim both parties retain the right to access the marital property. There are two exceptions to this general rule. First, a party may be evicted from a marital property in the context of a Protection from Abuse Order. A final PFA Order can remain in place for a maximum of three (3) years. The second way to have a party removed from marital property is through an application for exclusive possession.

Pursuant to 23 Pa. C.S. § 3502(c), the court has the express authority to award exclusive possession of the marital residence to one or both parties during the pendency of the divorce. This provision gives the court the authority to issue injunctions or other orders necessary to protect the interests of the parties.

Laczkowski v. Laczkowski, decided in 1985, was the first case to hold that the court could award exclusive possession of the martial residence during a divorce. 344 Pa. Super. 154 (Pa. Super. 1985). In Laczkowski, the home was to be given to the spouse having physical custody of any minor children. Other cases have clarified and expanded the instances under which exclusive possession may be ordered. In Uhler v. Uhler, the court indicated exclusive possession should only be awarded sparingly. 428 Pa. Super. 630 (Pa. Super. 1993). Uhler also pointed to the emotional welfare of children as the most important consideration. In Vuocolo v. Vuocolo, the court held an award should be based not only on the needs of minor children, but also the age and health of the parties and their financial needs and resources. 42 Pa. D. & C. 398 (1987). In Merola v. Merola, the court granted exclusive possession in an instance where there were no minor children but the wife was vulnerable and confined to a wheelchair. 19 Pa. D. & C. 4th 538 (1993). In contrast, in Duzgon v. Duzgon, the court did not grant exclusive possession based on wife’s allegations of tension in the home because of husband’s phone calls to his girlfriend. 76 Pa. D. & C. 4th 538 (2005). The court’s rationale was that there was no abuse between the parties and hence no clear need for husband to be excluded from the home. In sum, an award of exclusive possession is a last resort remedy that will not be awarded without clear need and is more likely to be awarded where minor children are involved.