Should You Keep the Family Home After a Divorce?
During a divorce settlement, deciding what happens to marital home can be gut wrenching. Typically, the home is one of the divorcing couple’s largest assets, but the property can’t easily be split. Either one of the parties may want to keep the family home, but sometimes the better decision may be to sell it and move on.
In addition to representing a sizeable financial stake, the family home can trigger a range of emotions. For some individuals, especially parents raising young children, the home can represent comfort and stability. However, the home also can be a constant reminder of heartbreak and loss.
Unless one spouse is the sole holder of the debt, the house may have to be refinanced or one spouse may sign a quitclaim deed relinquishing his or her rights to the house with the other spouse assuming the mortgage. If you default on the mortgage or damage the other spouse’s credit with late payments, that could open the door to potential contempt claims from the other spouse.
Your family’s situation and finances ultimately will guide your decision. Here are some reasons why keeping the home after a divorce may or may not be your best course of action.
Why you might want to keep the family home
- Stability for the kids: If children are involved, providing a consistent environment for them can be important during a difficult time. If the primary custodial parent can afford the household, often that parent will want to keep the house for the sake of the children. If children have special needs, parents may be concerned about transitional stress that could affect their mental health and development.
- Schools and activities: A high-quality school district may be difficult to replace. Teenagers may find it difficult to leave if they’re close to graduation or deeply involved in activities and have a strong social network. Keeping the house, even for a year or two, until the children leave the nest may make sense.
- Too costly to move: Depending on the market, selling the house may not be viable. The cost of the mortgage and upkeep may be lower than a rental or other alternatives. Other expenses, such as selling costs and moving expenses, may also make staying in the home the more affordable option.
Why you should sell the house
- Too costly to stay: Usually, reasons to not keep the house come down to money. Keeping the house may simply be unaffordable for either spouse, and child support or alimony may not be enough to cover the basic household expenses. You also should consider whether the house will require a significant amount of repairs or deferred maintenance when you are going to be on a tight budget.
- Need to split marital assets: A couple may have a good amount of equity in the house and need access to it. In order to access that equity, the couple may have to sell the home and divide the net sale proceeds. If there’s a dispute over the value of the house, putting it up for sale is a good way to determine the market value.
- Painful reminders: The marital home may be full of family memories that can be difficult to face on a daily basis. If the divorce was preceded by arguments or even violence, the home also can represent unpleasant times. Keeping the children in a familiar neighborhood with their friends and school is important, but that doesn’t necessarily mean holding on to the house.
Your attorney can help you weigh all of your options in a divorce. Starting over is rarely easy, but careful consideration of your long-term plans can help prevent a painful and costly mistake.