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What If One Spouse Wants to Keep the Marital Home Rather Than Sell it in a Divorce?

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Among the most common disputes in a divorce is what happens to the family home. Sometimes, both parties just want to sell it, split the proceeds and move on. However, there may be economic reasons for not selling at that time. In other cases, one spouse or the other may want to remain in the home. What ultimately happens to the house often depends on what makes the most sense under the circumstances.

The first step in the analysis is to place a value on the home, which typically requires a professional appraisal. The process is usually straightforward, but when one party does not agree with the valuation, they may wish to seek their own appraisal. The two amounts will then have to be reconciled by agreement or by the court.

The monetary value of the home is important to applying Pennsylvania’s rules of equitable distribution. Under this system, a monetary value must be assigned to all assets, including the home. “Equitable” does not mean 50/50. Rather, the court will divide assets in a way that is deemed fair to both parties.

One way to carry out equitable distribution of the home without selling it is for one spouse to keep the home and for the other spouse to be awarded more of the couple’s other assets as an offset. That scenario involves arriving at a net value of the home, which factors in the outstanding mortgage debt, the property tax obligations and other expenditures related to home ownership.

There are other scenarios for post-divorce home ownership that arise because of tax reasons, child rearing, family violence or other factors. One example is when a court awards one party “exclusive possession” of the home, which Pennsylvania courts have recognized since 1985. This remedy is sometimes ordered when the couple has children who would be best served by staying in the marital home with the custodial parent. Both parties retain ownership. Equitable distribution of the home is postponed until a future date, usually tied to the children reaching maturity or graduating from college.

The spouse who wants to keep the home will need to modify or refinance the mortgage loan (assuming there is one), removing the other spouse’s name and becoming fully responsible for the mortgage payments. The spouse taking ownership must also bear the cost of taxes, insurance and other expenses. This reality — that staying in the house means paying for everything — sometimes changes a spouse’s mind about wanting to keep the home.

The attorneys at The Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney, P.C. have handled numerous unique situations regarding our clients’ family homes. We are creative, practical divorce lawyers who will work to achieve an outcome that works best for your family. Please call 215.493.3360 or contact us online to arrange a meeting with our Yardley-based firm.

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