In today’s red-hot real estate market, many separating couples have urgent questions about what to do with the house they share. Here are three frequently asked questions and what you need to know.
Either spouse may choose to leave a co-owned home without forfeiting their rights to it. If physical or emotional safety is at stake, by all means put safety first. In cases of domestic violence, the Court can order one spouse to leave and restrain that spouse from entering the premises again. Without a court order, neither spouse may be forced to leave.
In more amicable situations, it is a good idea to discuss who is going to leave and how mortgage payments will be handled. Committing those agreements to writing is a good idea too. Spousal maintenance may come into play, too: the lower-earning spouse may be entitled to temporary support during the separation to cover for essential expenses such as housing and food, whether they are the ones staying in the house or moving to a new residence.
The cleanest way to divide the home’s equity is to sell. After paying off the mortgage, taxes and sale-related closing expenses, the couple then splits the proceeds. Homeowners may sell a house at any time, if both agree–there is no legal reason to wait until the divorce is finalized. All money matters must be accounted for in financial disclosures and reviewed by the Court.
Getting divorced also does not mean the home must be sold immediately. If no good offers are forthcoming, divorced homeowners may choose to keep the house temporarily until a better offer comes along. Other common reasons include making renovations and repairs, building up more equity, retiring other debts, or waiting until the children are older and change schools.
Selling a house comes with expenses while the sale is pending. Listing a house as For Sale by Owner can keep costs down, but a good real estate agent or broker may mean a higher sales price that more than covers the additional fees. Don’t forget lines of equity, second mortgages and taxes, including capital gains tax.
In Missouri, marital property is subject to what the law calls, “equitable distribution.” This means all marital property — property acquired during the marriage — must be divided in a way that is fair–although not necessarily equal.
For couples with similar incomes, sharing costs 50/50 may work. For others, a solution might be for one spouse to cover most or all of the costs through their share of the equity, but keep the better car, if it’s paid for. Or for the couple to trade in an expensive vehicle for one with low or no monthly payments. Lower maintenance payments may be an acceptable route for some. Solutions depend on each couple’s financial picture, and rarely look exactly the same. A judge will decide what is truly equitable if the parties are unable to do so themselves.
With a combined 30 years in family law, the attorneys at Jones Family Law Group, LLC, will provide the legal guidance you need. For questions or to schedule a confidential consultation, contact our team.
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