- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The purchase of a great many homes is the culmination of a marriage, dreams, saving of down payment funds and then the contract.

Unfortunately, about half the time, these houses of dreams are disbursed in the horrors of divorce. Been there, done that. It’s about as fun as a poke in the eye.

On the options side, there really are only three choices:

• Do you keep the house for one of the parents and children?

• Do you sell the house now and split the proceeds?

• Do you keep the house and rent it so you can sell it for a better price later?

The answer to these questions and their implementation, however, can be very emotional and heart-wrenching.

For real estate investors, the purchasing and selling of property is generally directed by the numbers — will it make more money than it costs to acquire and rent out?

However, the purchase of a personal residence takes more than numbers. It takes emotions, personal tastes and lifestyle choices. Does the house “feel” right? Are there enough rooms for the children and for grandma when she visits? Is it in the school district where our children attend? Can we grow here as a family?

Then the tragedy hits, and all those emotions must be dealt with again, in reverse. We never think about how we’ll answer these questions because it’s a situation we all hope we’ll never face.

In my volunteer work with single parents, I’ve seen that the manner in which the house was handled paints a long-lasting picture that will stay with both parties — and the children — whether it was an amicable split or a bitter divorce.

In these perilous moments of decision-making, a couple’s first stop should be with an accountant or loan officer who can methodically run through the numbers for both of you to see what you’ll be able to afford separately.

Keep the emotions of trying to keep as many “things” on your side of the table in check. Deal with the hard, cold numbers.

The numbers don’t lie. There’s only so much money to go around. Live with it, and accept it. If your spouse is hiding income and assets from you, that’s a separate issue and needs to be taken up with an attorney.

Once you know whether someone can stay in the house, move toward the most important part of the decision-making process: how the move will affect the children.

Without getting into personal counseling, let me just say from experience that the No. 1 decision should be on how all of this will affect the children. If dad must move out, he should get a dwelling close by. If the house must be sold, be sure to get two other properties that will provide for the security of the children with their parents.

The primary reason couples break up is over finances. That usually means that they are overextended and that the house might have to be sold just so they can move on. The equity goes to pay off bills and start separate lives.

If the market has dropped, a couple might need to rent out the property for a while until there is actually something to sell without coming to the table with a check.

If one party is going to stay in the property and the other leave, then the other might need to file a “quit claim” deed. That means one ex-spouse gets the title to the property. The quit claim can be filed without refinancing; however, both parties might need to stay on the loan for a while until both get back on their feet financially and the spouse with the house can refinance in his or her own name.

All of this, of course, will be dealt with in the separation/property settlement — meaning, in most cases, the attorneys will hammer it out.

If the payments can be made on the original loan and a second mortgage or rent payment be folded into the financial capabilities of both, do it. The children need the security of staying put if at all possible.

However, if part of the reason for the dissolution of the marriage is because you bought more than you can pay for, then sell it for as much money as possible and divide the proceeds.

When divorce forces a couple to split the property, they should try to avoid listening to their emotions and, instead, get advice from the appropriate professionals, look at the numbers in black and white, and then move forward.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate for more than 15 years. Reach him by e-mail ([email protected]).

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