“I want that house!” It’s one of the most frequent statements a practicing divorce attorney hears from a potential client. It’s an understandable one, too. After all, our homes are the single biggest purchase most of us will ever make. We tie our earnings and our future to our home. And they act just as much as a tie to our past, for better or worse. All of the holidays and milestones of our married lives are tied to those four walls and a roof that we call “home.” But is keeping that home the same thing as keeping those memories? And does it always make sense for someone to “keep the house” in their divorce? Perhaps surprisingly, not always.
One of, if not THE largest thing to keep in mind as a guiding principal when going through a divorce is your financial future. What will it look like? What do you need and what can you actually afford? Many times, people have an assumption that no matter what the cost, they are entitled to certain things, such as the maintenance of the marital lifestyle after the divorce is over. For many people, this is something that should include the home where they live with their children. Ideally, this is absolutely true. And in some cases, fighting to keep that home makes sense for many reasons both financial and emotional. The reality, however, is that in many cases, the house will be nothing but a burden on one parent in moving forward. The largest problem with maintaining the marital lifestyle for both parties when two people get divorced is the fact that it is impossible to spend the same dollar twice. The funds which were required to maintain one residence and one lifestyle are now called upon to support two separate lives. This means that where two people living together and maintaining one home may very well have been able to live at a certain standard, the realities of day-to-day life and the costs associated with now having to maintain two homes following a divorce create a situation where there just simply is not enough money to allow everyone to keep and hold everything they were able to afford prior to the divorce. The largest contributor to this reality? The marital home.
Ask any homeowner and they’ll tell you: Owning a house is one expense after another. This is true before a divorce and it is true after a divorce. Houses require maintenance. They may need a new roof in the summer or a heater in the winter. They develop leaks and creaks and all manner of minor and major issues which require the homeowner to spend time and money repairing and replacing this, that, or the other thing from time to time. They also require payment of taxes and a mortgage if the home is not owned outright. There will also always be the “carrying costs” such as heating, electricity, gas, trash removal, etc. While these things may not cause major headaches for a two-income family, they can be absolutely devastating for a single parent following a divorce. This is especially true if the parties split things like credit card debt in the divorce too, leaving one party to raise children, pay the bills, cover the debts, and maintain the house in moving forward. Sometimes there just simply is not enough money on the table, no matter who wants what, to maintain what once was. In these cases, things like the filing of a joint Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy prior to filing for divorce may make sense for both parties. In other cases, simply selling the home and using the proceeds to pay off all of a couple’s debts before they divorce will make much greater sense and help both clients and their children, if there are any, move forward without a lot of the stress which would otherwise follow them after the divorce as they try to maintain their standard of living.
The point here is not that no one should ever fight to keep their home when they are going through a divorce. There may in fact be many reasons why keeping a home makes sense for one party or another in a divorce. The point here is that each divorce is unique and so too is the future each party to a divorce will face when their divorce is final and they begin their new life. When consulting with an attorney about a potential divorce, it is always important to keep in mind not just what you might want, but also what you need and what you can afford, both today and tomorrow and in the years to come. A good family law attorney will always talk with you about what you need. He or she will discuss with you not just about what you “can” request but also about what “makes sense” for you to request in your divorce. He or she will explain the law to you and also the economic realities you are likely to face after your divorce is final. This way you and your attorney are partners, working together to make sure that when your divorce is final, you are in the best possible position to move your life forward, regardless of where you may then hang your hat and call home.
At Kerstetter Law, LLC, we treat each client as an individual. We speak with our clients about the law and also about their financial life following divorce so that they are an active participant in the most important decisions being made. If you have questions, please call Mr. Kerstetter for a confidential consultation on any family law matter.