A common and often urgent question people have when thinking about divorce is what will happen with the family home. This question weighs on potentially divorcing spouses for many reasons:
1. Emotional Attachment to the Family Home
Families, and especially children, can be very emotionally attached to the family home and divorce can bring about great fear that the family home will have to be sold as part of the legally mandated equitable division of the spouses’ net family property.
2. The Family Home is Most Valuable Asset Spouses Own
The family home can be, and often is, the most valuable (or only) asset the spouses own upon divorce and for there to be an equitable division of the family property, the family home will, in fact, need to be sold if another arrangement cannot be made.
3. Staying in the Family Home Lessens Loss for Children
The family home is like a life a free-floating life raft to children going through divorce and having to sell it can negatively affect the children’s social, emotional, educational and financial lives. Notwithstanding Uber and other drive sharing services that may allow children to travel to see their friends, children of all ages are accustomed to seeing their friends in their neighborhoods and at school. Losing these social connections serves to increase the already overwhelming loss children feel at losing their intact family.\
4. Education and the Family Home
In most, if not all cases, spouses want their children to have the highest value education possible. Because the sale of the family home requires two homes to be created from the value of one home, spouses often need to move to less expensive neighborhoods and out of their children’s school districts. This move interferes with the children’s social lives but also interferes with their educational lives because less expensive residential areas may come with schools with less resources and less individual attention.
5. Unequal Pay and the Family Home in Opposite Sex and Same-Sex Marriages
In addition, the move from the family home can bring with it a lower household income especially where the children end up living with their mothers. This is so because women of every socioeconomic class still earn less than their male counterparts in our society. Where the children alternate living with both parents, and the parents are opposite sex, the children are likely to have a higher standard of living in the male led household than in the female led household.
Unequal earning power may be mitigated in same sex marriages where it is possible that the spouses earn roughly the same amount. Like opposite sex marriages, however, in same sex marriages there may also be disparate incomes where one of the spouses has stayed home or worked less than the other spouse in order to take care of the children. While alimony is supposed to shore up this discrepancy, it often does not, and this will be discussed in a future post.
How to Hold on to the Family Home
So, what are some things you can do to lessen not only worry about having to sell the family home but to prevent having to sell it at all?
1. Order to Vacate the Family Home
In cases where there is a spouse who is abusive to the other spouse and/or children, the abused spouse can ask the court for an order that the abusive spouse vacate the family home. The abused spouse can then seek a restraining order keeping the abusive spouse away from the home.
2. Buy Out the Family Home
Where there is no abuse, each spouse can work with a lawyer or both spouses can work together with a mediator and negotiate the ownership of the home to one spouse. This is commonly done by one spouse refinancing the mortgage and buying the other spouse out of the house. The spouse who remains in the house, however, will likely then be solely responsible for the mortgage and all other expenses associated with maintaining the home. This arrangement does not need to last forever and is usually a measure taken until the children finish high school. The house may then be sold or the spouse who owns it may remain living in it if it is affordable to do so.
3. Wait to Sell the Family Home
Even without a buyout by one spouse, the spouses can agree to keep the house until the children complete high school and then sell the house and divide the value of the proceeds of the sale at that time. In this scenario, an agreement would be made about which parent will occupy the home (and which will move) and how the expenses for maintenance of the home will be allocated and paid.
4. Divide the Assets to Keep the Family Home
A further scenario is where spouses negotiate in a way where one keeps the family home in exchange for other asset(s) of the same value. For example, one spouse may wish to keep their own IRA’s in exchange for the other spouse keeping the family home.
5. Nest to Keep the Family Home
On a temporary basis (usually), the spouses can negotiate a nesting arrangement whereby they rent and share a second home. Rather than having the children move from one spouse’s house to the other’s, the children remain the family home and the spouses move in when it is their turn to be with the children. When their turn is up, they go back to the rental and the other spouse moves into the house for their time with the children.
Nesting is normally a short-term arrangement, but it can give the children time to get used to the divorce while preventing them from having to lose their house at the same time. Researchers find that loss is the greatest feeling children experience during divorce so minimizing loss by allowing children to remain in the family home, even temporarily, can be exceedingly helpful.