Guest blogger and Attorney at Law Karin Quirk with Divorce for Grownups was kind enough to write a post for me to help families struggling with the issue of selling real estate during a divorce.
What do we do about the house? Other than the parenting plan, this can often be the most difficult issue in a divorce. Not only does it usually represent the largest financial asset a couple may have, there is usually a lot of emotion around the issue.
This is the first question I ask my client. I am trying to determine how much emotion the client has toward the house. Often the house represents a great accomplishment or the client spent a lot of time and energy on making it just so. The house is the center of ones life sometimes.
There can be negative emotion around a house also. Perhaps there are sad memories. This is the house where the marriage fell apart. Sometimes I even find the client never wanted this house to begin with and can’t wait to get rid of it.
Many parents think it is important to keep the house “for the sake of the children”. This often requires a reality check. Depending on the age of the children, moving to another house is not as traumatic as one might think.
School location is important to many parents. One mother told me she “won the kindergarten lottery” in that her child was selected in a drawing for all day kindergarten. This would require remaining not only in the school district but in that particular school neighborhood. The issue then is whether they could find another home in the same neighborhood.
One mother insisted she had to stay in the house even though her children were in college so that they could have a place to come home to. I suspect this was more her issue than her children’s.
Who has been doing the housework? Maintaining the yard? Hiring the maintenance people. Most couples share this responsibility. I try to get my client to do a realistic review of this responsibility. I am not surprised when a client decides she really wants our from under all the responsibility and wants a more simple life.
I have seen people keep a house no matter the financial burden. I try to get my client to take a realistic view of this. What would it cost to rent a reasonable alternative. If the mortgage payments exceed the cost of rentals in the area, keeping the house might be a good idea. On the other hand, often we find that the mortgage is much less than renting something similar. I am concerned when a client is willing to give up all the liquid financial assets just to keep the house. Often there is no emergency cushion and no retirement. We call this being “house poor”.
If the answers to these questions lead you to the decision that you want to keep the house, there can be alternatives. I have worked with couples on ways for one of them to keep the house and yet come to a reasonable property division. That’s another blog post.
If you are interested in learning more about how Karin works with families in these tough times, check out her video below: