The process of buying and selling a house is already difficult. When you throw a divorce into the mix, it just gets messier. With the exception of child custody, dividing real estate might be one of the most complicated and important issues for a couple.
“Who gets the house?”
“Can we sell it and split the profit 50/50?”
“If I bought our home before we were married, I get to keep it, right?”
These questions come up too often with clients, and the answers aren’t always so cut-and-dried.
Sometimes the answers can solely depend on what state you live in and what the laws are in that state.
Before getting into litigation, there are some things every client in the midst of a divorce should keep in mind when dealing with the real estate aspect of their marital breakup. Family law attorney Benjamin Hodas specializes in handling high-asset divorce cases that include multimillion-dollar properties — most of them in the West Palm Beach, Florida, area. But the advice he gives his clients rings true for anyone who owns real estate — no matter how big or how small.
Here are some tips if you are working with a client headed for divorce court:
Sell now, divorce later
If possible, tell your client to sell the house before filing for divorce. If not, the house could be used as leverage. It is also easier to divide cash than it is a house. Selling the home ahead of time will also remove this primary source of divorce drama.
Think beyond the walls of the house
This just means your client needs to look past the value of the home. There is more to what it’s worth, including capital gains tax or a real estate agent’s commission, for example. If you want to keep the house because it is worth $500,000, ask yourself, “Is it really worth this much after you factor in all the ‘extra,’ or potential extra, costs?”
Kick your feelings out
Tell your client to take personal feelings out of the home. This is something that is easier said than done, I know, but moving on is a must. Removing emotion is one of the hardest parts of any divorce, but Hodas says those who are able to also make the best financial decisions during the process of the divorce. Emotions and feelings will change over time, but the decisions made based on those emotions and feelings will remain the same.
An ideal situation would be amicable, but we are talking about divorce, so it’s only natural to anticipate some conflict. In real estate, there are no guarantees, and things can change quickly.
I think the same can be said for divorce, so regarding both — it’s beneficial for everyone involved to be educated and prepared.
Christina Nicholson is a happily married mother of two who is also a TV news escapee. She has stood in hurricanes, reunited families on live TV and gotten paid to tour the Versace mansion in South Beach. Fun, right? Now, she works in public relations and spends her free time freelance writing online and in print. She’s also a Younique presenter. In addition, she volunteers as a Make-A-Wish Foundation wish granter.