It used to be that the biggest property fight in nearly every divorce was over who got to keep the house. Now, in the wake of the Great Recession and its attendant foreclosure crisis, this dispute looks much different - couples are fighting over who must take responsibility for the mortgage debt.
Pennsylvania divorce attorneys and family law lawyers throughout the country are reporting a huge increase in divorce settlement complications surrounding housing debt.
During a divorce, a couple's shared assets will be split in a property division agreement. Often, the spouse who maintains primary custody of the couple's children will be awarded the family home.
However, many divorced spouses find it difficult to stay on top of the housing debt after a break-up. Mortgage payments that took two incomes to support can be nearly impossible to make with a single paycheck. To make matters worse, the housing market is still shot, meaning that ex-spouses may not be able to sell the home to get out from under the debt. Even if they are able to sell, low housing prices mean they may not have enough cash left over to find a new place and get back on their feet.
What Can Couples Do to Avoid This Problem?
In the wake of this growing problem, some advocates are pushing for state-by-state legislation that would better regulate what happens to a family home and its debt during a divorce process.
In the meantime, couples can help protect themselves by entering into property settlement negations with realistic expectations about what their home is worth and how much they can afford to pay each month. Spouses who don't think they can afford the mortgage payment on their own may be better served by requesting the house be sold to pay off the debt.
This can sometimes be complicated, though, if the other partner does not want the home to be sold or has unrealistic notions of the property's value.
One thing is certain - these issues are far too complicated for divorcing couples to handle on their own. If you're facing a divorce and have concerns about your marital property, contact an experienced Pennsylvania divorce lawyer who can advocate on your behalf.
Source: Business Insider, "The New Divorce Demand: 'You Keep the House,'" Jill Krasny, Oct. 19, 2011.