Divorce and your mortgage: here’s what to know
These are your options if you and your spouse split
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Divorce can be an emotional roller coaster that brings significant changes to your life — including what to do with your shared home. While it is hard to not bring strong feelings to the negotiation table, it is best to logically choose an option that will not weigh you down financially.
Find out which mortgage options are available during a divorce and how to protect your finances and credit through the process.
- Selling your home can help split equity evenly among both parties, but it can also trigger capital gains tax.
- An ex-spouse’s name needs to be removed from both the title and mortgage loan to remove full responsibility and stake from them.
- Refinancing the home in one spouse’s name will transfer the responsibility, but it can also come with a higher interest rate and closing costs.
Mortgage options during a divorce
Some couples will be able to agree on which mortgage option to pursue when they file for a divorce, but if not, the court will decide which action must be taken.
Sell the home and split the proceeds
Selling your home and splitting the profits allows you to make a clean break from your spouse and home. This option allows for a fair distribution of assets and the chance for both parties to start new.
However, this option only works smoothly if both parties can agree to sell the home at the current market value. One party might feel the home is worth more, or there is a possibility that you are both upside down on the mortgage. Homes can also hold a lot of emotions, especially when children are involved, making it harder to sell and move.
Refinance the mortgage
“If both parties are on the mortgage and one spouse ends up 'keeping' the house, then they will usually be given a time frame in which to refinance the mortgage into their name,” said Derek Jacques, attorney at The Mitten Law Firm in Southgate, Michigan.
“The spouse that will be removed from the mortgage is usually instructed in the judgment of divorce to sign a quitclaim deed to remove themselves from the title as well.”
Jacques, who has represented spouses on both sides of this kind of situation, said: “It is the best case for both. Obviously, the spouse that isn't living in the home doesn't want to be on the hook for the mortgage payment if their ex defaults. It also makes sense to remove the other spouse from the title, as it will make selling the home in the future a much smoother process.”
The downside to this decision is that the spouse who wants to keep the home might have to refinance at a higher rate than the original mortgage rate or do a cash-out refinance to pay for the equity due to the other partner. Additionally, they will have to pay typical refinance costs, such as appraisal fees and closing costs.
» MORE: Best cash-out refinance lenders
Assume the mortgage
A divorce mortgage assumption typically happens after one party is awarded the family home through a settlement or court order. If you are granted the right to assume the mortgage, you will need to prove that you can carry on the loan without your spouse’s assistance. This option allows the mortgage interest to stay the same, and there will not be any closing costs.
However, mortgage assumptions cannot be done on all types of home loans. Conventional mortgages are not assumable, though FHA, VA and USDA loans are assumable if the criteria are met.
It is also important that the non-assuming party is removed from the title and loan so they no longer have payment responsibility or any rights to equity or sale decisions.
Keep the joint mortgage
Co-owning your home after your divorce is an option that is especially appealing if the market is poor or if you are underwater on the mortgage. It can give one partner more time to save up funds to buy out the other partner and remove them from the title and loan.
But co-owning can be risky, and you'll need to establish clear agreements and boundaries with your ex-spouse to ensure smooth co-ownership and avoid potential conflicts down the line, such as which partner can claim the mortgage interest tax deduction. Both of your credit scores will be affected if the monthly payment is missed or late.
Legal considerations for your mortgage during a divorce
Divorce proceedings can get challenging when both parties aren’t civil and fair. Whichever option you choose for your mortgage, you want to ensure that it can stand legally.
Your ex’s name needs to be removed from both the title and mortgage loan. A quitclaim deed is needed to legally remove one’s name from the title.
While your divorce attorney should help you with how to split shared equities, there are specialized divorce real estate agents that can also make the process less complicated.
Selling your home can trigger capital gains tax in some situations.
- Married couples receive a $500,000 tax exemption if they have lived in their home for at least two years out of the past five years.
- If you lived in the house less than that or are set to profit more than $500,000 on the sale, you will need to claim the money as capital gains rather than income.
Protecting your credit during and after divorce
Divorce can have a significant impact on your credit score, especially if joint debts and financial responsibilities are not properly managed. Monitor your credit report during your split and address any inaccuracies or discrepancies right away.
Your credit score may dip during a divorce. Monitor your credit report for any discrepancies.
During this time, settle joint debts and close joint accounts if necessary. Since all states rule differently, you need to know which debts you are responsible for and which ones will not affect you; don’t assume you won’t be saddled with a debt just because your name isn’t on it.
It can also be wise to open up a new credit card in only your name in the early stages of divorce so that you can have one card you use and pay off regularly. This will allow a positive payment history to be reported regularly to the bureaus.
Expect your credit score to dip while you sort out your financial accounts in divorce. Closing accounts can affect your average account age, which is weighted as 15% of your FICO score.
» MORE: How to check your credit score
Can I buy a new home while going through a divorce?
It is possible to buy a home while going through a divorce, but you won’t be able to rely on your joint income or credit scores.
“Another important consideration is the mortgage debt that limits a spouse's ability to secure a new loan or mortgage,” said Patrick Baranowsky, a divorce financial analyst at Baron Analytics. “A spouse can seek a court order that offers something called a contingent liability, and it says if there is a ‘court order assignment of debt’ like in a divorce case, the lender does not have to count that debt against that person when buying a new home.”
Can I remove my ex-spouse's name from the mortgage after divorce?
Unfortunately, removing your ex-spouse’s name from the title or mortgage loan isn’t just a simple phone call. Depending on what the settlement is, you can refinance the home to remove them, but your finances will need to be strong enough to qualify with a lender.
How is the equity in the home divided in a divorce?
Typically, the equity is split in half for most cases. This is easy to establish when the home is sold because both parties split the net share after the real estate commission and fees. However, when one party wants to buy out the other, an appraiser needs to step in to determine the current value of the home.
- Article sources
- ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
- Burggraff Tash Levy PLC, “Divorce Mortgage Assumption.” Accessed June 25, 2023.
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