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Family Law - Filing For a Divorce When Your Spouse Doesn't Want One

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When homeowners are facing a divorce, one of the most difficult decisions is determining what to do with the house. Because this decision can be highly emotional, important factors can be overlooked and the final decision could be a major financial mistake for both parties.

Couples under the duress of ending a relationship need to step back and look at the true financial value of the house before making a decision. Divorce is scary, so fighting to hold onto the house may provide a level of comfort. But this may be short-lived once a newly single person is weighed down by the high cost of the house. The better choice might be to sell the house, even if you owe more than it is worth. A divorce situation opens the door to getting out from under a financially upside-down house and a potential foreclosure.

Divorcing homeowners need to realize how the tremendous decline in housing values has affected the value of their house. Even if they have owned the house for as long as seven years, they still may owe more than the house is worth. With housing values continuing to decline, it may not be worth fighting to keep a house and ending up with an asset that is worth less than you owe. A better alternative may be a short sale of the house.

Divorcing homeowners can determine if they should sell the house by:

• Checking its market value. A simple way to get a "general" idea of the market value is to check the county's appraised value. This can be done by visiting the county's Appraisal District website. A more accurate way is to have a local realtor assess the value of the house.

• Checking the principal balance of the mortgage. Most mortgage companies provide the principal balance on the monthly statement, or you can call the mortgage company and ask for the "principal balance."

If the principal balance is higher than the market value, a short sale may be the answer. Most mortgage companies recognize a divorce as a justifiable reason for a short sale.

In a short sale, the proceeds from the sale amount to less than the balance owed. The bank or lender agrees to discount a loan balance due to an economic or financial hardship caused by the divorce. This negotiation is done through communication with a bank's loss mitigation or short sale department by a professional company.

For the homeowner, advantages include getting out from under an upside-down house, avoiding a foreclosure on their credit history, and partial control of the monetary deficiency.

Other considerations for divorcing homeowners include:

• Most lenders require a licensed real estate agent to list the house and conduct the short sale. The agent should be experienced at short sales.

• You should never pay anything for a short sale. The real estate company is paid by your lender after the sale.

• Beware of fraud. Make sure any company you work with is legitimate, with a business address and website. If all you have is an individual's cell phone number, this is not a good sign. Also, the company should never ask for payment.

• When deciding if you should keep the house, determine the total costs. The mortgage payment may be the largest cost, but there are also insurance, taxes, utilities, and yard care. Maintenance is a major consideration, because some big items need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years, such as a roof, air conditioning system, water heater, and kitchen appliances.

A divorce is one of the hardest and most emotionally draining events in your life, and following it with a foreclosure will only make things worse. As difficult as it may be, this is the time to look past emotional bonds to the house and focus on the numbers.

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