Who Gets the House in a Divorce?

Marital Assets and Property

You’ve lived there for 20 years. Now one of you has to leave. And a central question in divorce is: Who gets the house?

It may seem like getting the family home in the divorce settlement is a victory. But is it? Think it through: along with the property come property taxes. And there’s usually a mortgage (which in many cases is too much for one person to afford easily). If you’re like most couples, you and your spouse have precious little equity to show for your home ownership right now—but trying to sell is going to be a lengthy affair. You may even lose money. So is it a blessing to get the house — or a burden?

In the current New Jersey real estate market, it’s really worthwhile for divorcing couples to give serious consideration to the downside of home ownership. Set aside your emotions related to owning “a” home or even “this” home, and think long and hard about what the home will mean to you — not just in terms of its benefits, but also its drawbacks. Then ask yourself: Do I really want this piece of property? If you have children you don’t want to uproot, if you have business reasons for staying in this location, then perhaps it’s worth trying to get the house as part of your settlement. But if that’s not the case — if you’re an older divorcé with a larger-than-needed home, or if you think your spouse is going to fight you about it as you negotiate division of marital assets and debts — consider giving it up in return for other assets (or cash). You might find yourself in better financial shape in the long run!