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How is a house split in two during a divorce?

Sometimes it's the very last thing that divorcing couples settle between them: who stays in the house, and who moves out. Whether children are involved or not, both spouses may want the house, since it's such a valuable asset. In other cases, one spouse can't wait to leave the house and all of its memories and associations behind. However you feel, there's no denying this is a big decision to get past. Once you do, it's time to set emotion aside and get practical about the financial side. Here are three possible scenarios.

  • If you both want to move out and sell the house you'll need to agree on the terms and schedule: how much will you list it for? Who's responsible for arranging or accepting showings for the home with a realtor? When it does sell, who gets how much? Factor in who paid what at the time you bought the house and how much each spouse has been contributing to the monthly payments. Don't forget all the pesky details that normally accompany a real estate transaction: taxes, closing costs, inspections, realtors' fees and so on.

  • If you want to keep the home and your ex does not, you'll need to refinance, so that you can acquire a new mortgage in your name only. The house will need to be appraised for current value and once refinanced, you can then buy out your ex with the amount he or she is owed. Again, this will involve real estate transactions, which never come free.
  • If one spouse can't qualify for a home loan on his or her own because of major differences in income (as in a stay-at-home parent who doesn't have recent employment income to meet lender requirements), then the other could agree to remain on the mortgage or sign a new mortgage just to help qualify. After the new mortgagee proves they can make the payments, you can have the loan rewritten and end your involvement. There are potential liability problems with this solution, but it may make good sense when both parents want the children to stay in the family home.

Dividing a house that you purchased together in happier times, or one where you've raised your family together until now, is about so much more than just the physical space. It's a good idea to talk to an experienced family lawyer about all of your options. Don't rush or feel pressured by your soon-to-be-ex-spouse to go one way or the other. 

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