With more couples opting for a collaborative approach to divorce, questions regarding who takes ownership of the primary residence can come up. Generally, all property and assets acquired during a marriage in Pennsylvania belongs to both spouses.
The Keystone State’s equitable distribution laws require spouses to divide their property fairly. If a divorce follows the traditional procedure, what represents “fairly” becomes a matter for a family court judge to decide. A combination of some careful planning and the collaborative divorce process, however, can enable a couple to work out an ideal arrangement for both parties.
Trading another asset for the house
As reported by Forbes magazine, another jointly owned asset may trade between two spouses so that one could take ownership of the house in exchange. Assets such as a vacation home, jewelry or luxury vehicles may make up for the spouse’s share of the primary home’s equity value.
Buying out the other spouse
Sole ownership of the family home can result from one spouse buying out the other for a portion of the property’s fair market value. Depending on how much each spouse contributed to the home’s purchase, maintenance and property taxes, a determination of a fair buy-out amount could possibly involve some detailed accounting work.
A spouse wishing to remain in the home may need to take on a new mortgage or refinance an existing one to afford it on his or her single income. If he or she has the funds to buy out the departing spouse, then cash in exchange for the title could suffice. Through the collaborative divorce approach, two individuals can also work out an affordable payment plan on their own.
Dividing the house later
The collaborative process allows spouses to create their own nontraditional property division schedule. If the couple’s children will continue living in the house, child support and alimony payments could help ensure that the mortgage, property taxes and insurance remain paid. A couple may also choose to wait until their kids have grown before selling the home and splitting the proceeds.