Should I keep the house?

Published September 26, 2019

A house can be very symbolic.  Houses provide not only shelter but security for people.  Many people equate owning a home with being successful.  If you have children, the house you live in becomes the shell and shield for your family.  Memories and moments are often created in a home and it is hard to think about doing so anywhere else. 

An emotional topic

When divorce occurs, the question of whether to keep the family home becomes an emotional topic.  One spouse may feel very strongly about staying in the home.  Frequently, the feeling relates to not displacing their children.  Kids experience enough trauma and upset when parents decide to divorce, and it is normal not to want to uproot them and cause more stress. 

A financial strain

On the other hand, it may not be financially feasible to keep the house.  In a divorce, one household is split into two separate households.  If a couple was relying on both of their incomes to maintain the mortgage and bills, it could be a real stretch for only one of them to manage (even with financial support) if he or she keeps the house during or after the divorce.  Constantly worrying about how to make the mortgage payment and take care of all the other bills and responsibilities associated with the house may be worse than moving to a more affordable place.  

Don’t rush to make the decision

Deciding what to do with the house can be difficult.  The “good” news though is that the decision to keep or sell the house hardly ever needs to be made immediately.  The legal process to obtain a divorce takes time – months to a year or more in some cases.  This means that spouses can slow down some and evaluate options.  Selling the house is certainly an option.  Spouses should consider the costs of sale involved (commissions, closing costs, etc.) as well as the potential profit or loss.  If one spouse has already moved out, he or she will likely experience the management of bills and household responsibilities independently.  He or she may decide that the house is too expensive or, alternatively, become more confident in handling the household expenses.  Further, spouses may learn how attached their kids are (or aren’t) to the house as the divorce process unfolds.    

What do with the house comes up a lot in my conversations with clients.  It isn’t my role to tell clients what they should do but it is important for them to consider all options and not rush the decision if there isn’t an urgency at play.