Who Gets the House in a Divorce in Pennsylvania?

gavel and house keys

The home where you and your spouse have raised your children can be one of the most sensitive parts of any divorce. Deciding who gets the house in a divorce raises financial, custody, and practical concerns. Find out how Pennsylvania courts sort it all out, and what you should consider before deciding to fight for a home you may not be able to afford.

Who Gets the House in a Divorce in PA?

The short answer is either party could get the house in a Pennsylvania divorce. The judge could order the parties to sell the house and split the net proceeds after the mortgage and any home equity loans are paid off. If your case goes to trial, the PA family law judge will make an equitable distribution of all the marital assets including the marital home. Each party has the opportunity to describe what they think that division should look like. Then the judge will weigh a variety of factors to decide how to divide the family’s property between divorcing spouses, and what to do with the house.

At Berman Law, our divorce attorneys can help you craft arguments based on those factors. If keeping the home is your priority, we will help you identify other areas to offset the value while still presenting your spouse and the judge with a fair division of property.

Can You Get Awarded the House if You Moved Out First?

Pennsylvania no-fault divorce requires the parties to be separated for at least 1 year unless they can agree that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” When you can’t agree on who will keep the home, you may be worried that moving out to start the clock on the separation period will mean you lose your claim on the marital home.

Pennsylvania law doesn’t punish a spouse for moving out when the marriage relationship is over. Desertion is a grounds for a fault-based divorce, but that means more than just changing your address. The fact that you moved out first doesn’t eliminate your right to an equitable division of the home’s value. At Berman Law, our attorneys can help you prepare an equitable distribution that lets you keep the home whether or not you lived there at the time the divorce was filed.

Who Gets to Stay in the House During a Divorce?

Unlike some other parts of the marital estate, a house isn’t just an asset to be divided up by the court. Who gets to live in the home while the divorce is pending is a question that comes up in many Pennsylvania divorces. The Pennsylvania family court has the authority to award either party exclusive possession of the marital home during the separation period, or while the divorce process is going on.

While either party can request exclusive possession, if there are children in the case, the custodial parent is more likely to receive it. This allows the children to stay in the home where they grew up and continue in the same schools. At Berman Law, our family law attorneys know how to advocate for our clients’ exclusive use of the marital home, whether they are parents or not.

Can You Afford to Fight to Keep the House?

You may be sentimental about your family home, but before you decide to fight to keep it, you should take a practical look at whether you can afford to. Many modern Pennsylvania household budgets are based on two incomes. When a divorce divides the household, it may mean that neither spouse makes enough on their own to make the mortgage payments and pay for all their household expenses.

On the other hand, if you have historically been a homemaker or caregiver to your children during the marriage, you may be entitled to child support and Alimony Pendente Lite (APL) during your divorce case. These amounts can be used to pay for household expenses you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Alimony or spousal support may also continue after the divorce is final, giving you enough to maintain your household even after your spouse is not there.

It is important to look at the financial realities of life after divorce before you invest your time and energy into fighting for a home you won’t be able to afford on your own. Our family law attorneys can help give you an objective perspective on whether to keep the home, and can make sure your interests are protected if you decide to sell instead.

What Happens if You Aren’t Awarded the Home in Your Divorce?

So what if you aren’t awarded the home? Do you need to just walk away from your interest in the property? No.

When one party is awarded possession of the marital home in a divorce, the other party is entitled to their share of the net equity in the home. This is calculated by subtracting the outstanding mortgage balance and any loans from the fair market value of the home, and then dividing that amount into equitable shares (usually, but not always, one half). So if you own a home worth $200,000 and you have a mortgage balance of $100,000, unless there are other factors affecting the equities, you would be entitled to $50,000 in equity.

Most often, the party awarded possession of the marital home is ordered to refinance it to remove the other party’s name and pay off their share of the equity. In other cases, that equitable share could be offset with other property of similar value, such as retirement assets or other real property. As mentioned above, if neither party is awarded the home, the judge may order that the home be sold and the net proceeds divided between the parties. Depending on the equity you have built up in the property, you may be able to use this amount as a down payment on a new home where you can start a new chapter of your life.

At Berman & Associates, our experienced Pennsylvania family law attorneys know the pros and cons when deciding who gets the house in a divorce. We will meet with you and help you review the financial, practical, and emotional factors to decide whether to fight for possession or accept an equitable settlement of your interest in the property. We welcome you to contact us to speak with us about how we can help with your family law matter.

Categories: Divorce, Family Law