Equitable Distribution of the Marital Home

My hometown newspaper, The Miami Herald, weighs in on the problems couples face with the equitable distribution of their home during a divorce. The view is from the perspective of real estate agents around the country. In a perfect world, couples sit down together, and figure out the best time and price to sell their house. But of course, divorce is not a perfect world.

selling marital home divorce

Miami Vices

During a divorce, people react differently, sometimes badly, when it comes time to sell their homes. According to many real estate agents, in an attempt at a power play, one spouse simply disappears. And in rare cases, both spouses can vanish before the home is sold.

Divorce is an emotionally charged event, and often one spouse will take a hike when they believe the other one is exerting too much control over the situation. Sometimes, they disappear before an agreement is reached on how to sell the house. But once in a while, a soon-to-be ex takes off after the place is sold but before the deal goes to closing. If they never come back, the transaction can easily fall apart.

But some real estate agents think that it is better to take off and cool off, than act out in an aggressive manner. One real estate agent reported that one of her colleagues was once threatened with a machete. In another instance, emotions were so high that and agent had to sit between warring spouses at a closing.

Florida Equitable Distribution

I’ve written about equitable distribution of the marital home during a divorce before. In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, in addition to all other remedies available to a court to do equity between the parties, a court must set apart to each spouse that spouse’s non-marital assets and liabilities.

However, when distributing the marital assets between spouses, a family court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors.

Generally, the home remains a marital asset, which is subject to equitable distribution, regardless of who lives there during the divorce process. If a home is marital then both parties have equal opportunities to buy the other spouse’s share. Both may also be on the hook for liabilities.

Until a parenting plan for the children is in place, if you are interested in maintaining a meaningful relationship in your child’s life, leaving the home before a timesharing agreement is entered may create problems, and it can be costly, and prohibitive expensive to rent a new place if the process takes a long time.

Staying in the same home could create an incentive to negotiate a final settlement because living with your soon to be ex-spouse is very uncomfortable. However, there are also a multitude of problems with selling the marital home during a divorce, as many real estate agents will tell you.

Love It or List It!

One way agents have dealt with angry spouses is not to allow them to be in the same room together. Some suggest interact with clients separately. Another way is for the couple to hire a skilled team in real estate sales and divorce. But many say that the best way is to sit down together and discuss the situation as calmly as possible.

While the joy of living under one roof may have been lost during a divorce, couples could be living together as housemates until the home is sold – if it is sold at all. Whether the house is sold or not, it’s better to negotiate calmly about who will get what, or how the expenses will be handled. If the home is sold, couples must decide: How to divide the proceeds, and how utilities and other household expenses will be handled.

If addressed early on, before tempers flare, it will go a long way toward making your remaining time together as bearable as possible. Actually, you have to keep your cool until the day after you have sat down at the closing table. You can blow off steam after the closing, but don’t let your pent-up anger scuttle the deal at the closing.

One agent reportedly was working with a client seeking to buy a house from a couple who was in the middle of a divorce. When it came time to close, the wife refused to sign the documents until her soon-to-be ex-husband agreed to pay off a “very large” credit card bill that had nothing to do with the house. He didn’t pay. She refused to sign. The buyers didn’t get the house. A lawsuit could result.

The Miami Herald article is here.