Should You Keep the House During Divorce?
Should you keep the house during (and after?) the divorce? Well, it’s not just about the house, is it? There is no way you’re letting go of the car, the jewelry, the investments, your pension, your hard-earned income, or the Baccarat crystal goblets either. And you’re pretty adamant your divorce attorney will agree.
Unfortunately, the law and recent statistics are not in synch with you. According to financial studies, divorcing individuals need a more than 30 percent increase in income just to maintain the standard of living they had before the divorce. Divorce is like that. It’s really about loss and opportunity. But the fact is the loss is harder on women. One in five women fall to poverty as a result of divorce, while men experience a loss of between 10% and 40% to their standard of living. As devastating as those statistics may sound, divorce is not just about the economic leveling. Sometimes your life and the quality of your inner peace is more important than the house with the gourmet kitchen. Divorce could also be an ideal opportunity for you as a couple, and then as an independent woman, to face reality and get out of debt, or to finally sit down and work out a long-term financial plan for your children’s education.
What follows is a practical conversation about whether or not you should keep certain assets in the divorce. How you are going to come to terms emotionally with this division of assets, or how you are going to take steps to protect yourself and rebuild your life is better discussed in a series of coaching sessions or by reading this article about divorce recovery.
Divorce & the family home – pros and cons of keeping it
There are a few questions you need to ask yourself where the property is concerned. The first is whether you would be able to keep up with the payments and maintenance of the property on your own and whether you would have enough cash to buy your partner out or qualify for a loan to do that. If this is going to place you under pressure, you may want to consider downscaling a bit in order to still live a comfortable life.
The advantages of keeping the home in divorce include:
- Continued stability for the children
- Maintaining an asset that will form part of the estate
- The frustration of moving is not added to the stress that a divorce brings
The disadvantages of keeping the home in divorce include:
- Mounting financial pressure due to loans or reduced saving
- The full cost of the maintenance of the property rests on a single pair of shoulders
- The possibility that there is no access to funds to buy the other spouse out, which could cause ongoing financial pressure
Until you decide what to do
Whether the proceedings are quick and amicable or long and drawn-out, it’s important for both parties to take responsibility for the property and their other financial obligations. Falling behind on mortgage payments following a divorce, could cause serious financial implications. Both parties risk losing their creditworthiness, which means they may not qualify for a mortgage, whether it is for the family home or not.
For more safe, but smart steps to take if you are considering divorce, read our popular “36 Things to Do If You Are Thinking About Divorce.”
It is also crucial to maintain other payments, such as credit cards, tuition fees, levies, car payments, and insurances. Failure to maintain payments on these items could have a far-reaching effect on future applications. At this point, couples may also want to look into making use of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA). A CDFA will assess the financial situation to ensure that both parties remain on an equal footing for a long period. This is especially handy where one party earns a lot more than the other, or one of the spouses is unable to enter the job market as they need to raise the children. During the calculation, the analyst will determine whether one spouse’s assets will grow and the other’s will deplete, and adjust their recommended asset split accordingly.
If neither of you wants it or can afford it
When you’ve made your calculations and neither of you qualifies for finance, or neither of you wishes to remain in the family home, the obvious choice would be to sell it. But what happens when the value of the property is far less than the actual bond with the financial institution? This is what a short sale is, but it really shouldn’t be the first option as it will have a negative rating on the credit scores of the spouses. When their FICO scores are affected, they may have to wait a few years to enter the property market again.
Other debts and what to do
Joint accounts and divorces go together like a tracksuit and heels. They don’t. The moment there is a whisper of divorce, it’s important to let the banks and financial institutions know. This is to prevent the spouse from running up the debt and getting out of town. Although a loan may be in both names, both parties are responsible for the repayments in full. If you’re left with the repayments and you’re struggling to keep it under control, you will need to contact the bank to make a payment arrangement.
Sit down with the finances and prioritize payments. List the expenses in order of most important, which would include mortgage or rental payments first, then food and utilities, and finally tuition and insurances. The rest will follow. Try to pay debt off as the items clear instead of running up a bill again, but don’t necessarily close the accounts in case the alimony and child support payments come in late. Only use debt for emergency purposes.
And for those issues that fall off the balance sheet … your emotional needs, concerns, your sense of injustice, not to mention how you will begin to rebuild your life and help your kids get through this, contact SAS. We will help you put a system in place to come to terms with what you’ve lost, but also what you will discover. Take advantage of our free consultation so you begin your healing now.
Jess Walter is a freelance writer and mother. She loves the freedom that comes with freelance life and the additional time it means she gets to spend with her family and pets.
During my many years as a divorce mediator I encountered many women who started out determined to keep the house and trade future financial assistance like pensions. Often that attachment to a house was part of their determination to retain primary parenting of children and adamant reluctance to separate parenting from the family home. It took much patient listening, lots of work learning to think separately about parenting and real estate as well as clear financial analysis to make sure any such trade did not lead to longterm financial insecurity.
Dear Rachel, great thoughts from you, a seasoned mediator. It’s really important for women to understand that if keeping the house is not in the cards, there are other things to be gained by starting off in a new place. It’s so very hard this emotional attachment we have to our nests. But flying can sometimes be the best thing.
I am a mediator as well and the creator of Divorce Support Anonymous. If financially possible, I’d encourage them to keep the house for the first year at least. There is enough trauma going on through the divorce, allow some time for the dust to settle when your head is clearer and then make the major decisions.
My father thinks I should give up the house. But we have two properties of close to equal value.
The stress of a divorce and the stress of moving is too much!
How can I keep the house for a few years without giving up financial investments that we both earned and I deserve equal parts.
You’ve got to talk to a divorce attorney to make sure you learn your rights, what you are entitled to, and what would be the best plays for you.
You cannot Google solve this.
SAS for Women
Thank you for talking about how a joint account doesn’t go along with a divorce. My husband and I just got divorced and I am looking for a new home right away. I will find a reputable property for sale in the area.