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Should I fight for the family home in a divorce?

For many Juneau couples going through or on the brink of a divorce, their family home is one of their most valuable financial assets. More than that, each spouse might have strong emotional and other attachments to the family home.

If a couple has children, the children too may see their house as a source of stability and support particularly in the middle of what could be a very difficult time.

Under Alaska law, courts will usually treat the family home as martial property. As such, it gets thrown into the mix of the couple’s other property and debts which the court will then value and divide in a way that is fair.

What “fair” is depends on a number of legal factors. A fair division need not be 50-50, but many judges will consider an even split a good starting point.

Consider the bottom line

Whether to seek the family home as part of his or her share of the marital property really depends on a person’s circumstances. He or she should discuss all options with his or her family law attorney, and perhaps should seek out financial advice as well.

Still, there are some general considerations.

Can I afford it?

Maintaining a home is expensive. If there is a mortgage, then the court may by default assume the person in the home will refinance and the continue to pay that mortgage. The divorced spouse staying in the home may also be expected to pay any applicable real estate taxes.

Houses also require periodic maintenance which, from time to time, can get expensive. A home will for example need repairs to a heating system and its roof periodically.

Moreover, no matter how the details work out, a person will leave a divorce with one fewer person bringing in income to help finance a home. The person will also have much of their wealth effectively erased since his or her spouse will be entitled to a fair share of the marital property.

Keeping a home that is now outside of a person’s budget is not advisable.

How does keeping the home affect my legal position?

On a related note, a person who is going to keep the home is going to have to trade some other benefit to do so.

If the home has equity, for example, it will mean the spouse will provide have to surrender other valuable property, such as his or her right to a share in the other spouse’s retirement plan.

Before asking for it, a person should think long and hard whether, in the long run, it would be better to ask for other property or to suggest that perhaps the family home be sold and the couple split the proceeds.

On a related point, a person should also calculate the emotional and financial cost of engaging in a legal fight over the home.