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Figuring out where to live after divorce is often very unsettling and is the issue that causes the most upheaval in post-divorce life. While you and your STBX (soon-to-be-ex) are discussing what happens to the marital home, you may feel in a state of limbo, uncertain where life will take you. That makes it hard to make other related decisions, and yet, at least one of you is going to have to move.
Here you are, in the middle of one of life’s most stressful experiences. Everyone is telling you not to make any major decisions but you’re facing this one that you absolutely have to make.
How do you decide when to move out of the home? How do you choose where to live? What about the kids? Is renting short term a waste of money?
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We know that ultimately either you, your STBX, or possibly both of you, are going to have to move out. How soon one of you moves out depends whether there is money to pay for two homes and on how well you’re communicating.
If you can be civil, can get along on a minimal basis and things are relatively calm for the children, then you can live separately under the same roof while you work through the legal process.
If, on the other hand, you and your STBX are fighting, or if there’s abuse, extreme tension, or some other irreconcilable difference, then one of you needs to move out. Both of you staying in the house is not healthy for anyone.
Dr. David Glass, family law attorney with a PhD in Clinical Psychology, says “It’s not good for the person who’s ultimately going to be there, it’s not good for the party’s who leaving and it’s definitely not good if you have children.” Dr. Glass’s book, Moving On: Redesigning Your Emotional, Financial and Social Life After Divorce, discusses the difficulties and insecurities many people face in post-divorce life.
Before one of you moves out, you’re going to have to tell your children what’s going on. For that reason ,Glass recommends waiting until you have formulated enough of a plan to be able to tell the children the impact on their daily lives.
“Try to give the kids a very concrete plan of the way things are going to be,” saysGlass “rather than saying we’re getting divorced and we have no idea what we’re going to be doing and you’re just going to have to play along.”
Giving your children as much clarity and certainty as possible, without making promises you can’t keep, will help to reduce the anxiety they experience.
Before every state had no fault divorce, moving out of the marital home could put you at risk of being accused of abandoning the property or children. That could adversely impact custody and division of property.
With no fault laws, moving out prior to reaching an agreement with your STBX should not impact your parenting time or what happens to the marital home.
Nevertheless, Glass advises his clients to have a temporary parenting schedule established before they move out.
“The very minimal thing I want for them before they move out of the house is to know here’s what me and my soon-to-be-ex-spouse are going to do.” said Glass. “The finances can come in time, but the importance of maintaining contact with your children should trump everything.”
Glass has what some may consider to be a radical approach when it comes to the marital home. In his view it should just be sold.
As a couple, you’ve been pooling your resources, maybe you’ve both been working, maybe one of you has been a stay-at-home parent. Now, you’re going to be living in two separate homes and the money you have between you isn’t going to magically increase.
“No matter what the law says about trying to maintain the same lifestyle and what the law says about paying support or receiving support, there just isn’t enough money,” said Glass. “Both parties need to look very hard at what they have been spending on their house and look at all of their alternatives.”
Glass has found that it often makes sense for couples to get out of the house, take the profits they’ve accumulated and then to start fresh.
Qualifying for a mortgage is a big driving factor here. The spouse who wants to keep the marital home will have to refinance the mortgage and increase the amount borrowed to buy out their partner’s equity. Having enough income to do this is frequently a challenge.
The other consideration is Capital Gains Tax and this is particularly relevant if the value of your home has appreciated significantly. In simple terms, if you sell your house while you’re still a couple or within a year of the divorce, then the Capital Gains Tax exemption of $250,000 for each of you can be offset against the increase in value. That means up to $500,000 in gain is sheltered. If you keep the home on your own and then later decide to sell it, you’ll only be able to shield $250,000 of the appreciated value. With Capital Gains Tax in the 20-22% range, that’s a significant amount of tax you could be looking at.
Glass recognizes that parting with the family home isn’t just a financial decision. That home is tied to our ideas of the marriage and family.
“I assure them that within a short amount of time after you move, you can reestablish your home and all those good feelings about home in a new place and leave the other part as part of your past,” said Glass.
With older kids who don’t have long before graduating high school, parents often want to hold on to the family home together until the youngest child is off to college. If you can make it work financially, it makes sense. You do need to figure out all the specifics of keeping the home, such as who is responsible for the mortgage, who pays for regular maintenance, and how capital improvements will be handled.
Whoever is moving out of the home may be motivated to agree to this because the house would likely continue to increase in value. Once the house is sold, that person would get more money out of it. The disadvantage is that while their name is still on the mortgage, they may have difficulty qualifying for another mortgage which would allow them to buy a new home.
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Pulling heavily from his own personal experience, Glass advises his clients not to buy a new home right away. He says that renting is the way to go. That gives you time to consider where you buy a home, the type of neighborhood, the home features that are important to you, as well as having a clearer picture of your finances.
People are often opposed to this as they would rather see their housing payment going toward building their own equity rather than supporting a landlord. Glass counters this by pointing out that in the first few years of a mortgage almost all of each monthly payment is going to interest and not equity. If you can keep your rent about the same as the interest you’d be paying, you’re not losing out on equity and you’re giving yourself the flexibility and freedom to make a better, informed decision when the disruption from your divorce has settled.
While trying to decide where you want to live, a top consideration needs to be where your kids go to school. Their school is a center of their activities and the further away you are from it, the greater the risk of there being distance between you and your kids.
“If you’re too far away from school, it’s that much harder to schedule after school play dates,” said Glass. “Even on a very small level, it takes them longer to get to school and get home from school. That morning drive that used to be five or 10 minutes and your kids were chipper and excited to go to school. If it turns into half an hour or 45 minutes, that becomes a hassle.”
Glass advises his clients to maintain the same living situation if possible. If the kids had separate bedrooms in the family home, then look to keep separate bedrooms. If they shared bedrooms, that may still work, although that is also age-dependent. It often comes down to finances, but you can be open to an apartment or condo instead of a single-family home.
When Glass divorced, he moved into an apartment and was nervous about how his daughters would react to not being in a house. He quickly found that far from disliking the apartment, they were excited about it. With a doorman, it was a safe building and Glass allowed them to take their scooters up to the roof on their own which thrilled them.
“My kids figured out a way to make it as exciting as living anywhere else,” said Glass. “It just proves to me that the kids are much more flexible and adaptable to life post-divorce than most of us adults.”
If you do move out of the marital home, then one extra step you can take to make your new house feel like home to your kids is to get them involved with decorating their new bedroom. It helps them feel they have a voice in the change, and it isn’t all just being imposed on them. It gives them some control over this major shift in their lives.
“It ended up being a fun economics homework assignment,” said Glass. “They had a certain amount of money and they had pads and paper and had to figure out how to fit whatever they wanted in that budget. They were excited to be able to pick out their own decorations and their own stuff for their rooms.”
If you’re staying in the marital home, you’ll likely want to do some redecorating. Glass recommends that you start off with the master bedroom (your own space) and hold off changing the common areas like the living room and kitchen for some time. That helps the kids transition as opposed to coming home one day and finding everything about the home has changed.
Continued access to the family home causes so many arguments. For the spouse who stays living in the home, when their STBX just comes in, and walks around as if they still lived there, it feels like a complete invasion of privacy.
For the spouse that moved out, they often feel that if their name is still on the title to house or if they’re still helping to pay for the home, then it’s still their house and they have a right to enter.
This is a pretty black and white issue for Glass regardless of where you are in the legal process.
“Once you’ve moved out you should turn over the key and say, ‘this is no longer my home’.”
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