Divorce and real estate: What should you do with the house?

For many Americans, marriage and home ownership go hand in hand. You meet the person you want to spend your life with, you buy a home together and you start a family. Unfortunately, we all know that this isn’t always how things turn out.

If you are in the midst of divorce or are preparing for one, what to do with the marital residence is likely one of your biggest concerns. Should you fight to keep it? Turn it over to your spouse? Sell it and split the assets?

This is a decision that you’ll need to make after some discussions with your soon-to-be ex and your family law attorney. There are tradeoffs that come with any decision – some of which may not be immediately clear.

In many cases, one spouse (often the wife) wants to stay in the marital residence. She may want to keep her children in their familiar home, and she may also have an emotional attachment to the space as well.

Before you decide to keep the house, consider the risks and costs. Real estate is a safer investment now than it was during the housing crash of several years ago. But is it worth taking a smaller divorce settlement? Also, can you afford to pay the mortgage, utility bills and upkeep/repair costs on your income alone?

Selling the house and splitting the assets is mutually advantageous, because it makes the divorce settlement easier to divide. The potential down side to selling is that doing so can take a long time. If the housing market in your area is weak, you may be conversing with a real estate agent for months and trying to make crucial pricing decisions which will likely also require your ex-spouse’s approval.

What you ultimately decide to do with the house will depend largely on financial factors, housing needs and how well you can get along with your ex. Making the practical choice (as opposed to the emotional one) isn’t always easy, but it will likely be better for the whole family in the long run.

Source:, “3 tips on helping your clients deal with real estate during divorce,” Christina Nicholson, March 31, 2015

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