How to Keep Your House During a Divorce

HomeA house can mean a lot of different things to different people. For you, your home may mean stability. It can also represent an important asset, or consistency for your children during a difficult time. You may love your house for its proximity to your work, your family, or your children’s school. There are many reasons why you may want to hold onto your home during a divorce. (But first, ask yourself, “Should I Keep the House?”)

If you owned the home before your marriage and are the only person named on the deed, or if you received the home as part of an inheritance, keeping the home will be easy. It clearly belongs to you. However, most couples purchase a home together and are both named on the deed. In this case, you will need to negotiate with your ex-husband or ex-spouse and determine the best way to move forward. Oftentimes, if you have primary custody of your children, you can make the case that staying in the home will give them more stability and allow them to stay in their current schools.

A Buy-Out

Once it is decided that you will stay in the home, your ex may not be exactly feeling generous enough to just pack his bags and sign over the deed to you. He will likely expect you to buy him out of his share of the house.

A buy-out can work in a variety of ways, depending on your specific situation and how well you and your spouse can negotiate together during the divorce process. Usually, the buy-out is included in your divorce settlement.

Determining the Value of the Home

First, you’ll need to determine the value of your home so you have an idea of how much you will need to pay your spouse. This may be as simple as looking up the home’s value on a real estate website, like Zillow.com and agreeing on a price. These websites are not always completely accurate, so you may want to ask a real estate agent what they think, or shell out a few hundred dollars to have a professional estimate completed.

If you and your spouse cannot agree on a value, you may need to bring the matter to court and let a judge decide.

Some states allow you to deduct part or all of a standard broker’s fee from the buying price of the home, since you will have to pay a full broker’s fee if you should ever sell the home. Check with your divorce attorney to see if this is allowed in your state.

Another thing to consider is the current state of the house. Does the roof desperately need to be replaced, or have you been ignoring the need to replace old, run-down appliances? If there is some serious upkeep needed pronto on the house, you should try to negotiate a lower buying price with your spouse. If possible, get quotes for repairs or new appliances, and see if you can deduct that from your ex-husband’s selling price.

Exchanging Spousal Support

Coming up with the money to buy out your ex-husband’s share of the home may be difficult (though we’ll discuss how to do that in the next section of this article). If you have trouble raising the money and are entitled to spousal support, you may be able to exchange future spousal support payments for a lower buy-out price. This will require your ex-husband’s consent, but he may consider it a benefit not to be on the hook for future spousal support payments.

How to Perform a Buy-Out

Most women don’t have a hundred grand or more on hand to pay out to their ex-husbands. A buy-out is usually performed by refinancing the home and taking out a new loan in only your name. For example, let’s say that your home is valued at $400,000, and you owe $250,000 on it. That means you have $150,000 of equity in the home. When you refinance, you borrow enough to pay off the $250,000 that you owed together, and to pay your ex-husband half of the equity: $75,000. You can set it up just like a sale to a third party, so that your ex will sign the deed over to you, and the escrow company will transfer all the funds, including the buy-out amount to him, during the “closing.”

Make sure you do a title search before you agree to the buy-out to see if there are any liens on the home. You don’t want any surprises once the home is yours!

Have more divorce questions? Well, we have more answers for you in our divorce article archive!

40 thoughts on “How to Keep Your House During a Divorce”

  1. Pingback: How to Keep Your House During a Divorce | SortStyle.com

  2. Hi Candace,

    What if I am the lower earning spouse and probably wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage to keep the house? I’m assuming I will be eligible for alimony (15 year marriage – big disparity in income). Would a mortgage company use alimony as income. I’m assuming it would.

    If not, do you have suggestions for other ways to negotiate so I can keep the house?

    1. Each mortgage company is different, but many will count alimony income if you have been receiving it for at least six months and it will continue for at least three years. You could see if he is willing to keep the existing mortgage in place so that you don’t have to refinance.

    2. I and my ex wife we divorce on 16 March 2018 and I want to buy her out of the house. I have been paying bond since 16 March 2018 until now I am still paying bond while I am not staying in that house.I want to buy her out and concide that she never paid a bond .

      1. If you want to buy her out of the house, you will need get her agreement. She can easily deed the home over to you, but you will also need to ask the bank how you can assume the mortgage and get her name off it.

        1. Hello Candice and Ginita, I’m having parental problems and I hope for your advice please. I’m 22 years old and currently living with my parents while still attending in college. I’m unemployed at the moment, but I was wondering if you can help me solve a solution for my parents. My parents have been in a toxic relationship ever since I was little. My dad is a foriegner and he has many kids, a second family, and even houses in his other country. These secrets were not out till I was a senior in high school. My mom had struggle with money but she finally took action for a divorce this year and they both settled an agreement. My dad told her that he was willing to give her the house and she told him if he was 100% percent sure. He said yes, and my mom saved up enough money for those papers to be signed by his agreement. Suddenly he’s refusing to sign, because my name wasn’t in the name of the property. At the moment I cannot hold property for personal reasons, but i feel stuck and I wish to assist my mom. She sadly can’t afford a lawyer because of the high expenses. My dad also goes back and forth with making money and going back to his home country for a year or a half. He doesn’t move, he mentally abuse us saying we can’t live without him. I apologize for explaining all this frustration, anger, and pain that I lived for all my 22 years. I would greatly appreciate any advice you can give me, please reply, I would like to help my mom but I don’t know the next step for her because of my dad not wanting to move on, even though their both divorced already and he took back his words on not signing the agreement to give the house to my mom. Please help, Thank you.

          1. I really get how frustrating your father’s behavior has been for you, and how much you want to help your mom. She’s lucky to have you on her side and by her side.

            You say that your parents came to an agreement for settling their divorce. So that agreement needs to be drawn up in writing in proper legal form and filed with the court. If your father agreed to something orally and now is backing off of that, then there is no agreement on that issue. But once it is in correct legal form and signed, if he fails to do what he is supposed to do, the court can take action to get it done, for example, appointing someone to sign the transfer deed in lieu of him (called an elisor).

            It sounds like at this time no agreement has been drawn up, so that is the next thing to be done. If they can’t agree between them, then they could go to mediation to get a mediator to help them negotiate it out, or go to court and ask the judge to decide.

  3. Dear Candace and Ginita,
    What if my husband bought the house in his name just before we were married 22 years ago, which was because of an income ratio requirement to buy in a measure J complex? Do I have any hope of being entitled to half the value of the home in a divorce settlement? Or in a legal separation? Our mortgage is nearly paid off.
    Thank you for your reply.

  4. We got married 3 years ago and we never stayed together as we work in different cities and we have no kids togther. Will she have a claim if I decide to buy a house now? We already have an understanding we will be filing for a divorce soon. We have never lived together as husband and wife except for visiting.

  5. My husband has approached me about filing for a dissolution. We’ve been married for 6 years and have 2 children. He came here on a fiance visa from abroad and has gone behind my back to apply for his US citizenship. At the time I purchased our home, I placed his name on the deed because I wanted to acknowledge the importance of us being equal in this marriage. The loan is solely in my name because I had established credit. He wants half the equity of our home. Is he entitled to it? Only in 2015 through now has he been paying half of the mortgage payment. As for the equity of the home; we purchased the home with full intentions of this being our only residence. My children are going to inherit the home. They would be the ones receiving the equity. I want to go to counseling and he refuses. Over the years he did keep contact with a former love interest from his homeland and I suspect he will bring her or someone else here. Please advise. Thank you!

        1. I acknowledge your comment, and I beg to differ. “The worst” would be if I made up information about how things worked in your state without any knowledge of the facts. That would be irresponsible, since I’m not an attorney and I don’t know the laws of each of the 51 jurisdictions in the US.

  6. I lived in my house in Brazil and I married an American who did all my greencard process, now we have a daughter and he wants to put me out of the house with the children, I’m terrified

      1. What is the partner was abusive and drunk and high all the time and there is also a small child in the home. He had to be asked to leave. Also he never contributed much to the house that is in my name. He didn’t contribute to the downpayment which was a gift and is off the table in the settlement. I don’t feel he deserves anything. The” fair “ settlement presented to me by my attorney I feel is way to generous especially since he was abusive didn’t have steady income and I have full custody’s. How can I protect my home? . He is only concerned with money and he didn’t do anything but destroy things in the house and to us emotionally. Again I have a low fixed rate he o kT contributes 1900 towards the principle the 4 years he lived here, I am in Arkansas . I also must note I am not in a position to refinance I will lose my low fixed rate and I will not sell my home.

        1. I am not an attorney and I don’t know the laws in your state regarding property division and “kick-out” orders, so I can’t offer you much advice on how to have him asked to leave or what a fair settlement would look like. If his name is on the house he likely has an ownership interest in it, and even if it isn’t, living in the home during marriage may create a marital interest to which he is entitled.

  7. I am currently looking to spearate from my spouse. But I would like to keep the house. we live in VA, the house was purchased as a married couple but due to me not work outside the home and my Credit card debt we left my name of the loan, which allowed us to have a lower interest rate. but seeing that Im not on the DEED of the LOAN how can i go about making sure i keep the house

    1. I get it, and I understand your frustration. When the answer to the question isn’t dependent on state law, I try to answer it thoroughly. And I’m not an attorney and don’t know the laws of each state, so when it is a legal question, I refuse to make up information that isn’t right. You will always get accurate information here to the best of our abilities, and we won’t make things up when we don’t know.

  8. Pingback: Should I Keep the House After Divorce for the Sake of the Kids? | The Next Chapter

  9. Elizabeth Gregory

    My daughter is divorcing her husband of 3 years. She owned the house for 7 years. He had all the old appliances removed and purchased new ones. He wants to take them all out now. Can he do that? doesn’t he have to replace what he removed. He refuses to let her take over the payments.

    1. She should check with her attorney. In many states there is a temporary restraining order on people who are going through divorce that would make this kind of action against court orders and subject to restitution and penalties. Even if her state doesn’t have such restraining orders, I’ll bet there is something that would prevent this kind of action.

  10. Hey we have owned the home 2 months I bought it thinking it would help now I’m giving up. We have only been married 4 months. She has a kid and it tough bc I love that child. But anyway I want to keep the house, she can’t afford it anyway. Is it possible to make that happen. She is stubborn saying she isn’t going to leave. In her mind she thinks I will have to pay her alimony lol 4 months haha come on or thinks bc she has a child the judge will make me pay for her to live in the home. She already gets child support from another man that child isn’t my responsibility. Anyway I’m dealing with a dummy that wants a free ride. She is pissed off bc we found out I have a zero sperm count. What can I do??

    1. The laws of each state are different, so you’ll need to consult with an attorney or other divorce professional who is familiar with the laws of your state. If you used your funds from before marriage to buy the house, then the equity will probably be your separate property and you won’t owe her much, if anything. But you may need a court order to get her to leave the home. As for support, it is generally limited in a short-term marriage, but check with someone to find out.

  11. I’m George . I divorce my wife and she left the house, We both own the property but I stayed and fell behind four months going to five mortgage payments. I was advised to do a Mortgage modification to save the house.
    Now. ….. What to do when the wife is reluctant to sign a Quick sale Deed to complete the Mortgage Modification application. ?

    1. If it is required that she sign a quitclaim deed and she refuses to do so (and there are probably legal reasons why that isn’t in her best interest to do so), then you will not be able to do what you want to do the way you want to do it. Look to see if there’s some other way.

  12. Jesus Hernandez

    I’m getting a divorce and the marital home was bought by my soon to be ex wife and I and my parents gave the down payment and are on title as equal owners my wife is not on the loan because she didn’t qualify being that we are 4 on title will the judge let me just buy her out ? She’s not on the loan and I want to keep the house my kids are grown but are in college and they live with me

    1. Either one of you buys the other out, or the house will be sold. I don’t know to which spouse the judge will give preference if you each want to buy the other out. But I’m guessing only one of you is in a financial position to do so.

  13. Ive been seperated over 8 years but i never filed …now i wanna divorce her. We havent lived together in over 8 years. I recently built a home. Does she have any legal rights to this home.

    1. The laws of each state are different, but it may be that your state provides that if you buy a home after you separate and everything that you pay for it is from your income after you separated, then she doesn’t have any interest in the home. But if you made any payments from funds you had accumulated during marriage, she might have an interest. To find out for sure, you’ll need to check with someone familiar with the laws of your state.

  14. Husband moved out in 2014 and I have paid mortgage on my own since and is current. We officially divorced in 2018 after several delays (on his part). I agreed to pay child/spousal support and to buy his interest of home. He is pushing for the 2018 home value while I am holding to 2014 (but would consider something in between. I have already confirmed that I qualify to refinance property on my own (and cash out funds to buy him out). My ex however is pushing to have home sold. He has refused mediation in the past but now will consider if I pay for all costs (I’m skeptical he will mediate in good faith). Can a judge order the home sale when I am willing and able to buy out his interest?

    1. I don’t know about what a judge can do where you are, but usually a judge will order the home sold if neither party wants it or one party wants it but doesn’t have the cash or borrowing power to buy the other spouse out. If there is a disagreement as to the value, the judge will likely order the parties to have it appraised to establish the value.

  15. My wife and I got a divorce she sign papers to say she only want the items that is hers do she need to have her name off the mortgage

    1. If she got the house, or if it is being sold, then no, she doesn’t need to have her name off the mortgage. But if you took over the house and she wants her name off the mortgage, you will need to contact the mortgage company to see what that will take on your part.

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