Who Wants to Keep the Marital House?

Posted on Jul 25, 2013 by Katie Carter

So, who keeps the house? In most divorces, this is a loaded question. Usually, there’s some sort of problem. Either both parties want it, neither wants it, or one wants it for far, far less than the other is willing to give it up for. I get it: the house is an important piece of the puzzle. It’s a big asset, sometimes the only asset a couple has to divide. It’s a sentimental thing. For some people, it’s special because it’s the home where they lived when the children were born, or where some special event happened. It’s also something familiar and safe so it makes sense that, sometimes, when everything else is changing, it feels like it might be nice to hold onto something comforting and normal.

For me, though, as an attorney, I only see a couple of options when it comes to the marital home. Someone can keep it, in which case they would have to buy out the other’s interest in the home. Normally, that requires refinancing so that the home (including the mortgage and the deed) is switched into only one person’s name. It may also require special financing. Alternatively, the home could be sold, and the proceeds split between the parties. Of course, that assumes that there are proceeds. These days, I have probably seen more houses that are underwater than with actual equity in them. In those cases, sometimes the parties have to share the loss, rather than the profits, if they want to sell the home. If one person wants to keep the home, even though it’s underwater, they may not have to buy out the other person’s interest in it—in fact, the other is sometimes all too happy to be rid of it.

So, to keep, or to sell? No one can really answer that question for you, but I do encourage you to think long and hard about what your reasons are for keeping it, if that’s what you want to do, and whether you can actually afford to do it on your own. Will you be able to refinance? Can you afford the monthly utilities associated with your current residence? What about taxes? Can you handle the upkeep? Remember that things like water heaters tend to break at the worst possible times, and home ownership is about a lot more than whether you can actually cover the mortgage.

There really are just two main options: keep or sell. Whatever you decide, make sure you review all of your marital assets, and prioritize about which are most important. You can’t keep everything, of course, and you’ll have to ask yourself whether the marital home is one of the most important points to you or not.