For many couples planning for divorce the marital residence is the most significant asset they own. Whether owned outright or subject to a mortgage, what will happen to the marital residence after divorce is often one of the first questions we get from our divorce clients. Predictably, our answer is always: “it depends.” Though it may not be the most satisfactory response for clients, it’s the truth. What happens to the house after a divorce depends on the unique circumstances of each case and control over the issue depends, to a large extent, on 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 a number of factors (length of the marriage, ability of each spouse to support him or herself after the divorce, etc.) in determine how assets should be divided between the parties in light of the circumstances in the case. In order to effectuate an equitable distribution, 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.
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. 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. In those cases, placing the residence up for sale and agreeing to split the proceeds is the most practical decision. In other cases, one party may wish to retain the residence. Provided that s/he is financially able to do so, s/he would refinance or obtain an assumption of the mortgage on the residence so as to remove the other party’s name. In that case, the value of the residence would be placed in the “column” of the party retaining it (since s/he would be entitled to 100% of the proceeds if/when they decide to sell) and the rest of the martial estate would be distributed between the parties accordingly.
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.