From the beginning of my divorce, I knew I wanted to keep the house. The downpayment had come from an inheritance I’d received from my mother’s estate, which meant that part of the asset was considered non-marital property. All major repairs and property improvements had come from that inheritance. Since we’d bought a foreclosure, the mortgage was reasonable and far less than I’d pay in rent in the area. I wanted to keep my monthly payments low because I worried about my legal bills. But most importantly, I didn’t want to further disrupt my young son’s life.
Our child was roughly three and a half when we separated, and almost five when the divorce was finalized. I worried that it would be too stressful for him to not only split his time between two parents but also two, new locations. Keeping the house maintained some continuity in his life.
My ex didn’t see it that way. His sole concern was the amount of money he’d get if we sold the house. He thought the money should be split 50/50, with no consideration given to the non-marital aspect of the downpayment and repairs. He yelled at me that our kid would adjust, and bounce back, if forced to move.
It was difficult to let go of the marriage I once fought hard to keep alive. It was also amazingly freeing once I’d taken that step.
I fought hard to keep the house. At our financial mediation I had receipts and supporting bank statements cross-indexed to repairs. Printouts of the home’s estimated value from several websites to combat the wildly inflated value my ex was claiming it was worth. Statements from my mother’s trust and bank statements showing when it had paid out and where the down payment funds had come from. It was one of the most contentious hours of mediation. We finally agreed on a value and pay-out to my ex, one which – per the law – took into account my non-marital assets. I walked out of mediation drained, but victorious.
I kept the house. And, last fall, I sold it.
As one of my friends put it – when you buy a house, you take on a whole bunch of hobbies you never really wanted. I’d grown tired of the yard work and snow removal. Maintenance costs like an unexpected roof repair and A/C repairs, both for thousands of dollars, grew old. I spent most of my weekends cleaning a five bedroom, two bath house which only had two people living in it.
It wasn’t easy to downsize to a two bedroom, two bath apartment. But it was worth it. I have heated, underground parking and I don’t have to shovel a driveway. A pool that my son loves, and a hot tub for me on my kid-free weekends. When the dishwasher broke I emailed the maintenance guy that morning and came home to a working dishwasher that night.
I fought hard to keep the house, but I’d also reached a point where it was time to let it go. It was difficult to let go of the marriage I once fought hard to keep alive by dragging him to therapy, shoving down my pain and hurt, and lying to myself that it would get better. It was also amazingly freeing once I’d taken that step. I haven’t once regretted leaving him. In fact, I’m proud that I was the one who pulled the plug and told him it was done. And it has given me the strength and wisdom to let go in other areas of my life.
Divorce brings with it a lot of change. Not just financially, but also in terms of your lifestyle. And at this point in my life, apartment living is much easier. Having free time to play with my son instead of scrub toilets on the weekend? Worth it. I can grow tomatoes in planters on my balcony instead of in my raised-bed garden. Even though he misses our old neighbors, every time we go to the pool there are new kids for him to play with. It’s been an adjustment, and someday I may buy a house again, but for now it’s the right choice for us.
And sometimes, as a divorced mom, that’s the only thing you can do. Make the best choice for you and your children in the moment and within the current set of circumstances. Just because you fought hard to keep something doesn’t mean you can’t choose to let it go later, when it no longer serves you. Ask yourself – what have you been holding onto? And how much freer will you feel if you let it go?
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