Divorce: Dividing the Marital Residence

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When planning for a divorce, most often the marital residence is the most significant asset owned by a divorcing couple. Whether owned outright or subject to a mortgage, what will happen to the marital residence upon divorce is often one of the first questions we get from our divorce clients. Unfortunately, at the outset of a divorce, the answer is usually unclear. What happens to the marital home after a divorce depends greatly on the unique circumstances of each case and to a large extent, whether the two parties can agree on a value for the residence.

Pennsylvania is an “equitable distribution” state. This means that the divorce court utilizes several factors, which include: the length of the marriage, ability of each spouse to support him or herself after the divorce, the quality of life enjoyed by the parties during the marriage, among many others. In order to effectuate a division of marital property, the court must determine the value of the various assets, including the marital home. The value of the home can be determined by obtaining a professional appraisal; however, whether or not the parties agree on the appraised value of the home can be a big factor in whether the case will settle or proceed to trial.

Additionally, the court will consider whether there is any pre-marital equity in the home. If either person owned the home prior to the relationship and/or prior to the marriage, this will affect the marital value in home. The marital value of the residence is from the date of marriage to the date of separation.

Generally there are two options when it comes to dealing with the house in a divorce: The house is sold and the parties split the proceeds or the house is retained by one party and the value of the house is attributed to the party retaining it for the purpose of effectuating an equitable distribution. The second option almost always would require the spouse remaining in the home to either assume the mortgage (if the issuing bank permits it), or to refinance the home in his or her sole name. In some cases, it may not be practical for either party to retain the house because neither party can afford to cover the costs on their own, or they may not be able to refinance. In those cases, placing the residence up for sale and agreeing to split the proceeds is the most practical decision.

If you’re considering a divorce and you and your spouse own a home, you should consult with a knowledgeable and experienced divorce attorney in Pennsylvania. By setting up a consultation with a PA Divorce Lawyer you can learn what your options are as far as effectuating an equitable distribution of the marital estate.