North Carolina Divorce: What Should Happen to the Family Home?

Many things about divorce are unsettling, but the question of what will happen to the family home is one of the most important issues you will face. The loss of your family home can be devastating as the life of every family member is intricately tied to the home and the community to which it belongs.

In North Carolina, married couples must live separate and apart for one year to obtain an Absolute Divorce. At the end of a marriage, it's hard enough to adjust to the change in family relationships without also having to move out of your home. As a result, one of the parties often refuses to move out. This can be especially devastating for children and teenagers who are not only attached to their childhood homes, but also to neighbors and friends at their schools.

In addition to the emotional investment, a couple's financial commitment to the house is usually significant. Often the family home is the single most valuable asset a couple owns.

The normal options at divorce are for one spouse to stay in the home (with or without the children) or to sell the house and divide the proceeds. It's difficult for the average North Carolina family to afford to set up and maintain a separate residence for the spouse that moves out of the home. Often the supporting spouse will move out of the marital residence and continue to pay the household expenses for a period of time. For most couples, the financial strain of this arrangement leads to more conflict.

Unfortunately, the current state of the real estate market often leaves couples seeking divorce in a situation where they become trapped by their homes.

Even if the couple decides to sell the house and divide the proceeds, the house may take months or even years to sell. The mortgage payments along with taxes, insurance, utilities, repairs and maintenance are often too much to maintain after the separation. If the home is owned jointly, the title cannot be transferred until one spouse qualifies for a new mortgage. However, separated spouses often have difficulty qualifying for a new mortgage with a single income or no income at all. .

The situation can also be complicated by the effects of this down economy. For example, the house may be worth less than the amount owed on the mortgage. If the couple faces a loss by selling or can no longer afford the payments, financial options concerning the home look even bleaker.

An experienced family law attorney can help a husband or wife sort through the emotional, financial and practical issues relating to the marital home. Many couples are able to negotiate a settlement agreement that addresses all the terms of their divorce, including property division, without litigation.

If the couple is not able to come to an agreement about the home, the court will do so as part of its property -division decision in the divorce. North Carolina law calls this process "equitable division" of marital property. North Carolina courts presume an equal division of property is equitable unless an equal distribution would not be equitable. In making this determination, the court will consider all relevant factors including income of the parties, custody of the children and distribution of any other marital property.

If you are considering a separation or facing divorce in North Carolina, discuss your options with a divorce lawyer. You are not alone, there are many people who have been through a similar situation. A family law attorney has the experience to help you navigate through this difficult time. Your home is important to you both emotionally and financially, discuss your options with a divorce lawyer so you can make the best decisions for your and your family.