Your Pennsylvania Divorce: Who Gets the House?

Making the decision to get a divorce is difficult, inciting many stresses and uncertainties. It may be challenging to envision what a life without your relationship, your routine, and your home might look like. But the fact of the matter is that you may walk away from your divorce without ownership of some of your most valued assets, like your house. That’s why it’s important to know your rights and enlist the help of a divorce attorney who can guide you through the process as you divide assets between you and your spouse.

In order to move on after divorce, you and your spouse must reach an agreement on which of you will keep the house, and which of you will move elsewhere. To ensure you’re receiving all that you deserve and making the best decisions for you and your family’s future, we’ve come up with a guide to help you navigate how to decide who gets the house in your Pennsylvania divorce.

Analyze Your Assets

An important concept to understand as you navigate divorce is your assets. An asset is anything that holds real value. There are many types of divorce assets, including:

  • Real estate (marital property)
  • Liquid (cash)
  • Retirement investments
  • Personal property
  • Business (owned businesses or streams of income)

Any items acquired over the duration of your marriage could be considered assets, and the list can become long and complex. In this article, we’ll focus on the house as an asset, as it’s often one of the most significant deliberations amongst divorce mediations.

Assess Ownership

The first step in the process is to figure out who owns the house. Is the house marital property or separate property? If the house was purchased before marriage, it’s considered separate property, and that spouse may have rights to keep the house. However, if both spouses have a history of making mortgage payments (assets are commingled), both spouses have rights to ownership post-divorce. If the house was purchased during marriage, it’s marital property, which makes splitting things a bit simpler. Knowing this information will help you understand the possible next steps.

Discuss With Your Spouse

As you follow the steps for divorce in Pennsylvania, have a discussion with your spouse. Each partner should express what their goals are regarding where to live after divorce. Should you want to keep the house and your partner does not, or vice versa, you may be able to come to an agreement or a buyout without the help of an attorney. If you both want to keep the house and are unable to agree on how to go about it, the court will analyze your situation and come to a decision for you both. Think deeply about your emotional attachment to the house before you take it to the court, as this will require a lot of time and money. That said, the harder you work as a couple to sort through this, the smoother the separation process will go. 

Determine What You Can Afford

Whether you hope to keep the house or find alternative housing, you need to take a deep dive into your finances to determine the most affordable option. Your emotional attachment to the house may leave you fighting to keep it, however, your new single income may not be sufficient for staying, especially with children. Consider your individual income, child support payments, and credit health in order to decide whether or not you can afford to keep the house, or if you can afford to buy one of your own. Buying a house on a single income will likely shrink your selection of available homes compared to your combined income. Apply for a mortgage preapproval to see how much house you can afford and compare it to prices of homes in your desired area to determine if buying a home, keeping your existing one, or renting is a viable option.

Understand the Court’s Decision-Making Process

Should you decide to put your fate in the court’s hands, it’s important to know what’s taken into consideration when designating ownership. The court will take a look at each spouse’s financial situation and consider any children the couple have, along with their custody plans. Also, know that the court will always rule in the best interest of the children. If you don’t have children, the court can rule a buyout as the best option, or order that the house be sold, splitting the profits evenly between the couple. To split accurately, the court will also consider the amount paid toward the mortgage if the house is considered separate property.

It can be difficult to navigate how to handle your house during a divorce, but with the help of a reliable attorney, you can come out the other side of divorce happier than ever. Contact Karen A. Ulmer, P.C. for additional guidance centered around family law, custody agreements, and all things divorce.