During a divorce, who gets the house?

As with many of the topics I have written about, there is not a simple answer to the question of who gets the house in a divorce. It is, however, a question that comes up over and over as I work with divorcing couples. The family home is one of those assets of marriage that has memories – both good and bad – and it is a topic fraught with tension when a couple divorces. Here are some key factors to consider when determining who (if anyone) should keep the house.

A house is a major financial asset as well as a major ongoing expense. Consider these questions when deciding who (if anyone) should keep it as part of your divorce.

  1. Why do you want to keep it? This question is not as straight forward as it may seem. Is it strictly emotional? Do you want to keep it because your soon-to-be ex wants it and you want it out of spite? Do you want to keep it so the children will have that one constant in their lives in the midst of the divorce? There are lots of potential reasons for wanting to keep the house and you may have more than one. Identifying your “why” can help you to evaluate other options that may serve the same need.
  2. Can you afford to keep it? I recognize that this can be a pretty tough wake up call for many. Consider the mortgage, real estate taxes, insurance, utilities, potential for major repairs and costs of general upkeep. The last thing you want to do is start your newly single life in a house that you cannot afford. Also, consider what you are giving up in other assets in your property settlement if you keep the house.
  3. Is there a mortgage on the house? Is your credit and your income enough to allow you to take on the mortgage on your own? I always encourage individuals to speak with at least a couple of mortgage lenders prior to deciding if they will keep the house so they know what their options really are. Even if you and your soon-to-be-ex have decided that you will keep the house and refinance into your name, it does not mean that the lender will be on the same page.

Remember, there is no one right answer or a one-size-fits-all approach to decide who should keep the house, taking the time to make a solid research-based decision is what will serve you best. It’s also not a black or white question. If you need help making this major decision or coming up with a creative house settlement that will work for all involved, contact a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA).

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