Should I Keep the House for My Kids During Our Divorce?
The marital home is more than just a financial asset, it is the place where the kids have grown up and memories have been made. The children have likely made a lot of friends in the neighborhood, and they may have a major emotional attachment to the house you live in. This often brings up a big dilemma during a divorce: should I keep my house for the sake of the kids?
If you are going to have physical custody of the children, then keeping the house might seem like the right decision. After all, divorce is hard enough on the kids, and if they get to stay in the house they grew up in, this would give them some added stability during a difficult time. And your kids are probably also lobbying you to stay in the house, so going this route would definitely please them in the short term.
If your children’s wishes were the only consideration here, then yes, keeping the house would be the right choice. But as you are no doubt aware, there are other factors to consider as well. This is not to say that your children’s feelings are not real and valid, they are. However, this does not mean that they should be the ones making adult decisions based on factors that might be beyond their understanding.
Aside from the children, the other major consideration in deciding whether or not to keep the marital home is finances. The unfortunate reality about divorce is that it creates two households where there used to be one out of the same overall income. This means two housing payments, two utility bills, two internet bills, more groceries, etc.
Some divorcing couples have the financial means to comfortably maintain two households, and in such cases, it might not be too difficult to find a way for the custodial parent to stay with the kids in the marital home. But for most couples, the added expenses incurred by a divorce at the very least create some financial challenges and in some cases even hardships.
If you are in the latter group, then you need to look at your financial situation realistically and decide whether or not you can really afford to keep your home. Because if you can’t, then you are going to be financially stressed during the time you live in the house, and you may end up losing it before too long anyway. So, in a case like this, keeping the home for the sake of the kids only puts off inevitable disappointment down the road.
Important Questions to Consider Before Deciding to Keep the Marital Home
You may or may not be in a good position to keep the house during your divorce, answering these questions will help to better determine where you stand:
- Who actually owns the house?
While in many marriages the house they live in is marital property, this is not always the case. For example, if one spouse solely owned the house before the marriage and never added the other spouse’s name to the title or spent any marital funds on renovations, then it might be non-marital property. Talk with your attorney about whether or not the house is part of the marital estate.
- What do you have to give up in order to keep the marital home?
Assuming your house ends up being deemed marital property, it will be one of the largest assets that you and your spouse own. If you have a significant amount of equity in your home (which many people do these days because of the strong real estate market), then you will need something to trade in exchange for keeping the home. This might be cash, retirement account assets, or something else of value. How will this type of trade affect your financial status?
- Can you afford the real cost of owning your home?
This is the key question. You need to look at all of the costs associated with keeping your house including the mortgage payment, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, utilities, and maintenance and repairs, and determine if you can make this work with your post-divorce income. This might require some lifestyle adjustments to make ends meet, and you may need to learn to get by on less. Keep in mind also that your house is not a liquid asset in the same way as cash in a bank account, so you should also be able to set aside something from your monthly income for emergencies.
Budgeting is a foreign concept for many people, but for divorcing spouses, coming up with a realistic monthly budget is the only way to know for sure whether or not you can afford your current living situation. If you have not kept a budget in the past, now is the time to start. If you are not sure how to start, speak with a financial advisor in your area.
Consider All of Your Options
As you assess your situation, there may be some ways you had not considered in order to keep your kids in the marital home and make it work financially. For example, mortgage rates are very low right now, so maybe you can refinance to a better rate that will save you some on monthly payments. You will probably need to refinance anyway if the house is jointly owned, because you will need to get your spouse’s name off of the title.
If you and your spouse are on relatively good terms, there may be some other ways to deal with this situation more creatively. One possibility is to continue owning the home together and sharing the housing payment.
In some limited cases, couples decide to take it a step further by having the kids live in the home and the parents alternating staying with them. This practice is known as “nesting”, and it has been used in situations when moving the kids would be too tough on them, such as divorces involving children with special needs.
Finally, closely examine alternatives to keeping the marital home to determine if these options are any better. For example, if you and your spouse are not staying in the house, then you will probably be selling it. And this brings up some additional questions:
- How much can you expect to get from the proceeds of the house sale?
- What are the tax implications of selling the house?
- How much will you be able to save by downsizing, especially in a real estate market where housing and rental costs are rising?
Work with a Skilled and Knowledgeable Virginia Divorce Lawyer
Deciding whether or not to keep your house is one of many critical choices that divorcing spouses face, all of which will have a profound impact on their futures. With so much at stake, it is very important to hire an attorney who can provide strong legal guidance and support during this challenging time.
If you are facing a divorce in Virginia, contact Buck, Toscano & Terezkerz for the legal help you need. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our attorneys, call our office today at (434) 977-7977 or send us an online message.