At some point in every divorce, a big debate ensues about dividing property. A lawyer once told me that divorce is the time when two grown adults temporarily lose their sanity to fight over who gets to keep a set of salad bowls! As laughable as his quote is, any of who have divorced know there’s a lot of truth in it!
I remember going through my home with a notepad to take a sort of inventory of all our possessions and begin drawing up a proposal of which of us should keep what items. It became ridiculous enough that the list even included who got the jar of paprika from the spice cupboard and which of us would keep specific cookware. We actually started to fight over who was the owner of the spatula that was really good for making omelets. That’s when I realized how insane this could get, and vowed to buy my own damn spatula!
The biggest “prize” for many divorcing couples is the house. A home is typically the crown jewel in a family’s empire. It is the one asset that represents the most financial, physical, and emotional investment. It is the castle. The domain. The ultimate symbol of victory in a divorce! If you thought negotiations over the spare set of bathroom towels was tense, just wait until the fight over the home begins!
To the surprise of many, I voluntarily walked away from my house! Some may perceive this as admission of fault, weakness, or complete ignorance. I know of people who have threatened to leave their marital home only to go to the funeral home because they refuse to give it up no matter what!
The question, then, is why do any of us want the house we lived in as a married couple? What does it represent and why do we hold on tight? Among other reasons, many of us bunker down to hold on to the house:
On principle. It’s just as much yours as his, right? So it might as well be yours!
Where else should I go? Fear is a driving factor for many who stake a claim on the family home. Home is a sacred sanctuary, and the thought of starting over at a new address on top of other divorce chaos is overwhelming.
I want to make him pay! Some want the house quite simply because they feel they’ve been wronged, and maintaining a tight hold on the largest marital asset seems like a fair trade for pain and suffering.
For the family. Kids will go through enough pain and confusion as a result of their parent’s divorce, so the thought of uprooting them from possibly the only home they’ve ever known seems especially brutal. Many of us just want to keep things as calm and consistent as possible for our family.
All of these typical reasons to keep the house after divorce are understandable; however, there are many other points that should be considered in this decision:
Can you really afford it? Marriage is a wealth-building arrangement, and divorce is a wealth killer! Once the legalities are finalized in court, two spouses who used to pool resources, will each now survive on what they can each earn. Some of us may have the assistance of child support or spousal support to help ease the disparity between incomes; but, there will still be less income available to maintain the same expenses for that property.
Some who fight for their homes end up discovering that keeping up with taxes and the mortgage for a property that they have less income to support is more than they can handle on a tighter budget. It is wise to carefully evaluate your proposed post-divorce budget to determine if keeping the home is biting off more than you can swallow!
Are you up to the upkeep? Stereotypical gender roles suggest that wives usually take care of household tasks like laundry, dishes, and general cleaning, while husbands usually handle tasks like snow removal, lawn maintenance, and general repairs. Even if the husband isn’t a wiz at plumbing and roof repair, often the man of the house coordinates these repairs with contractors. You may have defied the norms and been the one who wielded the hammer and screwdriver, as needed. The question is: do you want this responsibility solely on your shoulders?
This was a major deciding factor in my situation. My home was purchased as a fixer-upper. After ten years living there with my self-proclaimed DIY expert husband, my house was still more of a remodel nightmare than dream home. I looked around at yard upkeep, a roof in need of repairs, and abandoned projects in every room, and I knew I wasn’t capable of maintaining it. It made more sense for me to rent a home and let a landlord be responsible for maintenance and repairs!
Will you be allowed to keep it? The question of who wants the home may be a moot point once the court makes their determination! It may be decided that the only fair way to divide assets is to force the sale of the home and split the proceeds. This may either force one spouse to buy out the other’s half, or both may have to jump ship.
Even if one spouse does remain in the home, there will still be issues to sort out to ensure the spouse no longer in the home is no longer on the deed, or in any way responsible for taxes, insurance, the mortgage, or other costs.
Is that where you really want to be? A home is the stage for most of our family moments. My children were both brought to my marital home as newborns. All of my most treasured memories of their early childhood years orbit around that home; yet, all the darkest memories I have from my marriage also reside there! Each of us have to decide if we can continue to live with the ghosts of our former relationship.
Both happy and sad events took place under that roof, and some of us may not be able to move forward while surrounded by reminders of the past. I decided that I could not continue to live in the home that represented so much negativity to me. I, personally, needed to take the step to re-build my new life in a place with a clean slate.
Are you hoping to keep your house in your divorce? Saying goodbye to a treasured piece of our life is always a hard thing to consider; however, there is much more involved with this decision that I invite you to think over before making any final decisions. The choice to move out or stay put is as individual as each of our divorces; so, there is never one simple right or wrong answer, only whatever we feel will be best for us!