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Questions about buying your own home during divorce

At the end of your marriage, as you and your spouse file for divorce, you decide that you want to keep the house. You really love it and want to keep living there after the divorce. You also want it to be a safe haven for the kids, so that they do not feel like the divorce drastically changed their lives.

If you want to do this, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do you need to buy the home from your spouse?

Yes, you probably do. If you and your spouse both have a right to that marital asset, you have to buy out your spouse's interest. For instance, if a sale would bring in $50,000, your spouse isn't likely going to let you keep the home without getting that $25,000 from somewhere.

2. Do you need to buy it with cash?

No. While you can, you may also work out an arrangement with other assets. For instance, perhaps you and your spouse have an investment portfolio for retirement. You deserve half of it. Your spouse may agree to take the entire thing if you take the house, and then the split is even.

3. Do you need to refinance?

Probably. Technically, it is possible to keep the home on the existing mortgage, but that keeps your ex on the loan. Divorced or not, the lender can try to force your ex to pay if you stop paying. Mortgage lenders don't care what you agreed to when you got divorced.

As such, your spouse probably wants to simply get off the loan by letting you refinance and buy the house on your own. This raises another important question: Will you qualify for that loan? You bought the house as a couple. Can you get a large enough mortgage as a single buyer?

4. Do you need an appraisal?

Yes, an appraisal is wise no matter what option you choose. Never assume that the house is worth what you paid for it or what you still owe on your mortgage. Don't just look at estimates on your own. Have an appraiser tell you the real value.

If you do have to apply for a new mortgage, an appraisal is a part of that process and there's no way to avoid it. The lender wants to make sure that the house is actually worth what they're lending you in case you default and they have to foreclose on the house.

5. What do you do now?

The key is to make sure you know exactly what legal steps to take. Plan in advance. Decide what you want and talk it over with your spouse. Then find out what legal plan will make that a reality.

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