Navigating House Options During a Divorce

Divorce is not just an emotional upheaval but also a time of significant financial and legal decisions. It’s especially true when it comes to shared housing.

The marital home is often more than just an asset. It’s a repository of memories and dreams. Deciding what to do with it during a divorce can be particularly challenging. Selling while divorcing can be as tricky and stressful as it is.

The complexity of emotions and the need for financial security require careful consideration and, often, tough decisions.

Whether selling the house, buying out one spouse, or opting for co-ownership, each path has its implications, benefits and challenges. 

Over many years in the business, I have been asked how the house is split in divorce. There is no exact answer, as every situation is different.

We will provide a clear guide through the options. The guidance will help divorcing couples understand the potential impacts of each choice.

The tips will allow you to navigate this complex terrain more confidently and clearly.

Understanding the emotional and legal complexities

The decision of what to do with the marital home during a divorce intertwines emotional and legal complexities.

Emotionally, the house represents stability, memories and a sense of place, making the thought of parting with it daunting.

The stress is compounded by the need to untangle shared lives and assets under the scrutiny of legal proceedings.

Legally, the house is viewed as a marital asset. It is subject to division according to state laws, which vary widely and can significantly influence decisions.

It’s crucial to consult with a legal professional to understand your rights and obligations. This advice is pivotal in navigating the legal intricacies. Understanding how your state handles property division (equitable distribution vs. community property) to know what legal and financial documents are required.

The emotional weight should be acknowledged and managed. You may want the help of a therapist or support group to ensure decisions are made rationally and in the best financial interests of both parties.

Option 1: Selling the house

Benefits of selling: Selling the marital home during a divorce is often considered a clean break. The split allows both parties to start anew. Financially, it can provide each individual with liquidity, possibly aiding in purchasing new, separate residences.

It also removes the burden of upkeep and mortgage payments for a property that might be too large or expensive for one person to maintain post-divorce.

Steps to sell the house

  1. Agree on a real estate agent: Both parties should agree on a trustworthy and experienced agent. This will ensure the sale process is handled professionally. REALTORS® should be prepared for questions.
  2. Set a price: Considering any selling urgency, the price should be based on a professional appraisal and market analysis. Never rely on a home value estimator such as Zillow or Redfin. These are not accurate home values.
  3. Prepare the home for sale: This might involve repairs or cosmetic improvements to enhance the property’s appeal and value.
  4. Manage offers: Offers should be considered carefully, ideally with the real estate agent’s and legal counsel’s guidance. Doing so ensures fairness and legal compliance.

How to split the proceeds: The divorce agreement should outline the division of proceeds from the sale. The contract should consider factors such as each party’s contribution to the home’s purchase and maintenance and any outstanding mortgage or debts tied to the property.

Option 2: Buying out one spouse

How to determine the buyout amount: The buyout amount is typically based on the home’s current market value. It is generally arrived at by a professional appraiser.

From this value, any outstanding mortgage or liens are subtracted. The remaining equity is then divided according to the couple’s agreement or court decision. It provides the buyout amount for the departing spouse.

Financing options for the buying spouse: The spouse who wishes to keep the house must secure financing to pay the buyout amount. Options include:

  1. Refinancing the mortgage: Obtain a new mortgage solely in their name. This might also offer the opportunity to secure a better interest rate or loan terms.
  2. Home equity loan or line of credit: If sufficient equity exists in the home, this can provide the necessary funds but requires careful consideration of the additional debt burden.

Legal and tax considerations: The buyout process should be executed with clear legal agreements to protect both parties. It should include the transfer of the title and any changes in mortgage responsibilities.

Tax implications, especially regarding capital gains tax, should be considered, potentially offering tax breaks if appropriately structured.

Option 3: Co-ownership

Scenarios where co-ownership might work: Co-ownership might be viable if both parties are amicable and financially stable. Maintaining stability for children until a certain age could be critical.

It requires high trust and communication, as both parties remain financially and legally tied to the property.

Setting terms and conditions for co-ownership: A detailed co-ownership agreement should be drafted, outlining the following:

  1. Financial responsibilities: Who pays for mortgage, taxes and maintenance? How expenses are shared?
  2. Usage rights: If one party lives in the house, what are the terms of use? Is there any rent or compensation to the other party?
  3. Decision-making: How decisions about the property are made, including potential sale or changes.

Managing the property and exit strategies: Regular communication and a joint account for property-related expenses can help manage the property effectively.

An exit strategy should be part of the co-ownership agreement. It should detail scenarios like wanting to sell, buying the other out, or what happens if one party cannot meet their financial obligations.

Only then will the spouse leaving be prepared to buy another house.


Navigating housing options during a divorce is a multifaceted challenge, blending emotional, financial and legal aspects.

Whether selling the house, buying out one spouse, or choosing co-ownership, each option demands careful consideration and, often, professional guidance.

It’s essential to weigh the benefits and responsibilities, understand the legal implications and manage the emotional aspects thoughtfully.

Remember, the goal is to make a decision that provides both parties with a foundation for their post-divorce lives.

Seeking advice from legal, financial and real estate professionals can provide clarity. It paves the way for a decision that aligns with your unique circumstances and long-term well-being.

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