When it comes to dividing assets in your divorce, some decisions might feel easier than others. You know you’ll keep your own car. Splitting your bank account might seem logical. And dividing your retirement probably isn’t too controversial, either.
Then, there’s your marital home. Unlike your bank account and 401k, you can’t just each take half; either one of you is going to keep it or it’ll have to be sold. Here’s where the decision-making can get tough. For many, deciding whether to keep the marital home is one the biggest - and most emotional - decisions in divorce.
It’s natural to want to keep the house. You picked it out yourself. Invested time and money to make it a home. You have a lot of memories in it. And let’s be real - moving is no fun.
Keeping the home might feel like a given - you haven’t even considered anything else. But before you ask for what might be the largest asset in your marriage, really think about whether keeping your home is the best choice for you. Here are a few factors to consider:
Your emotions: Divorce is already an emotional roller coaster. Your home might feel like the only stability in your life and it’s just too painful to think about giving it up. But think about how you might feel about your home after your divorce is over. Perhaps keeping your home lets you hold on to memories of a happier time. But is it also possible it’ll keep you stuck in the past? Ask yourself if you can truly move on in your life if you’re still living in the place you shared with your ex. Will you be happier staying where you are, or creating a fresh start in a new place?
Your kids: Think about how tied your kids are to your house and the neighborhood. If their best friends live 3 doors down, and you carpool to school every morning, that might be a pretty big factor. And maybe staying in the same school district is really important. But remember that kids are resilient. As hard as it might feel to pull them from their home, they will be ok as long as you treat the move as a positive experience. Let them know that just as they love this home, in time they’ll love their new home. Taking them shopping for bedding for their new rooms helps, too!
Your finances: Maybe you feel emotionally invested in your home and can’t imagine leaving it. But what would keeping this home mean for you financially? Think about how this home fits into the big picture of what you expect to receive in the divorce. If you have a mortgage, most likely your spouse will expect to be removed from it. At a minimum, you’ll need to qualify on your own to refinance the house. And if there aren’t enough other assets to balance things out, you might have to “buy” your spouse out of their interest in the home. That means pulling money out of the house, and a larger mortgage payment for you. Ask yourself if that’s a position you can afford to be in. Then think about your overall budget and how much of it would be taken up by your home. Maybe you can “afford” the home, but it would seriously impact your ability to do other things - like buy some new clothes, travel, or send your daughter to summer camp. Is it worth keeping this home if it means you’ll feel more financially strapped? What options would you have if you sell it instead?
Your stress level: Moving is inherently stressful. So much so that it’s ranked 28th highest on the life stress inventory. If you’re at a point where you just don’t feel like you can take on one more big thing right now, you might be better off staying put. As long as your home is a decent investment (i.e. you don’t think it’s likely to go down in value anytime soon), then keep it for now, knowing you can sell if and when you’re ready post-divorce. There’s no shame in calling “uncle” if a move now would just be too much.
Your life as a whole: Think big picture here. How does where you live fit into your overall post-divorce life? If you live in the ‘burbs but work in an office downtown, is the morning commute still feasible now that you’re on your own? Also, think about all the things that need to be done to maintain your home - like yard work and house repair - and whether you have the time, money, and means to do them. There’s no right or wrong answer. Some people enjoy spending their Saturdays mowing the lawn or doing house projects; other people hate it but are fine paying someone else to do it. What matters is whether this home, and all that it entails - suits your needs.
If you’re having trouble with this decision, it might be a good idea to consult an expert:
Talk to a real estate agent. Ask about both the market for selling your current home and your options to purchase or rent something different. It could be that your current place really is the best place for you, but it’s also beneficial to consider all your options.
Consult a financial advisor. If you’re uncertain how to evaluate this decision financially, a financial advisor can help with that. Ask them to create a financial snapshot with you staying in your home, and one with you selling it (or letting your ex buy you out instead). Then evaluate both options and see which feels better to you. You might not realize how big of a difference the options could have on your overall financial picture.