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Selling a house in divorce

The most important financial asset for most married couples is their marital home. So when it comes to getting divorced, deciding what to do with this shared property is one of the biggest challenges.

Although one party will sometimes remain in the home (eg if they buy out their former spouse or take ownership as part of the financial settlement), it is quite common for the property to be sold and proceeds divided. This article will take a look at various aspects of selling a house in a divorce.

What should I do when selling a house because of divorce?

One of the first things to do when deciding to sell up as a result of marriage breakdown is to get the property valued by an estate agent or surveyor. This valuation will be extremely important in terms of the overall financial settlement.

If you have a joint mortgage, inform your mortgage lender about the situation straight away; any failure to meet mortgage payments can damage credit scores of both parties (eg making new mortgage applications more difficult) and can even lead to the house being repossessed.

Should you sell your house before or after you have filed for divorce?

Whether a divorcing couple decides to sell up before or after divorce will depend to some extent upon their respective financial situations. If both have their own independent means and savings, there may be less of a rush to sell up – especially if they are happy to carry on living together during divorce proceedings, or if alternative living arrangements can be made.

But if money is tight, it may be helpful to put the marital home on the market at the earliest opportunity. The overall process of separation can be very expensive and having access to proceeds from a house sale may be critical in terms of both parties being able to meet their financial responsibilities.

On the other hand, if any substantial repairs or alterations are required before the house can be put up for sale, this can lead to disputes as to who is responsible for paying for any work. In this case, it may be better to first reach a divorce settlement which takes this issue into account.

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How do I protect my ownership rights?

While the divorce process is still ongoing, spouses have ‘home rights’ in their shared matrimonial home. In effect, even if the property is owned by just the husband or wife, their spouse retains a right to live in the property until the divorce, annulment or dissolution has been finalised and a court settlement agreed. However, it is vital that home rights are registered with the Land Registry. For more information on home rights, see our Matrimonial Home Rights Application Service.

What is the process of selling a home during divorce?

Once you have decided to sell your marital home, the key steps are essentially the same as for any house sale:

  • Valuation – get the property valued early in the process. If any major refurbishment is necessary, a second valuation can be carried out later on.
  • Market – an estate agent will be able to help put the property on the market and create the various materials necessary. It is possible to save money by using an online estate agent or even selling privately.
  • Conveyancing – most people will use a solicitor to handle the legal process of transferring ownership etc.

The profits from the sale can then be distributed equally between the divorcing parties – subject to any financial settlement which states otherwise.

Selling the house with children involved

If you have decided to sell the family home then its essential that you decide how you are going to care for your children and where they are going to live.

Whether you are looking at buying separate homes from the sale your family home or if you are looking to rent/ move in with family your children will be the top priority.

You will need to take additional consideration in regards to the sale of the property to ensure that you have somewhere to go once you have sold the property. Some families decide that they will sell the family home when the child becomes a certain age due to the logistics and affordability.

How can I sell my house quickly after a divorce?

If funds are tight and a quick sale is necessary, putting your house up for auction can achieve a fast turnaround. Alternatively, there are certain ‘quick sale’ companies which offer to buy houses either directly themselves, or find a third-party purchaser in a short amount of time.

Although this can speed up the process of selling a home, particularly in a stagnant property market, this generally comes at the cost of a discounted rate of sale (compared to the market value) and there can be other restrictions. See the Money Advice Service for more information about quick sale companies.

Why should I obtain a consent order?

If you are selling a matrimonial property upon divorce, you should obtain a consent order to make sure the other party carries out what they have agreed. For example, if you have agreed to split the proceeds of a sale 50:50, a consent order will legally enforce this agreement.

It can also enforce a divorce settlement to prevent one party making financial claims on their former spouse several years down the line.

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Selling the house in divorce FAQs

Can I force the sale of my house in a divorce

If it’s the family home, but you’re the only legal owner:

If you are the property owner and wish to sell the property you will have to obtain the consent from your spouse. If your spouse doesn’t consent to the sell of the family home then you will have to take the issue up with the court.

Joint mortgage: 

If you are within a joint mortgage and only one party wishes to sell the property, you will need to raise the issue with the court, your spouse can order the court to refuse or put the sale of the property on hold.

The court will often consider postponing the sale of the house if they believe the house is needed for the children due to their being no alternative accommodation available.

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