Who Gets the Family Home in a California Divorce?

Who Gets the Family Home in a California Divorce?

In a divorce, one of the most significant concerns is what will happen with the family home. This is particularly true when minor children are involved.

The family residence is often the largest asset owned by the parties to a divorce, so the financial interest is often significant. In addition, there can be a sentimental attachment to the home. For these reasons, dividing the parties’ interest in the family home can be easier said than done. The first task is to decide who actually owns the house. You can learn more about determining basic ownership interests¬†here.

It is not always easy to apply property law when dividing the family residence. For instance, what happens if the down payment was made with separate property funds? What if both parties contributed to pay down the mortgage while they were married, but the home is titled in just one name?

When there is a community property interest in the residence, there are three basic ways it can be divided: (1) sell the property outright and apply the profits toward the couple’s community property estate, to be divided; (2) one spouse buys out the other’s interest, assuming the purchasing spouse has adequate funds or credit to do so; and (3) deferred sale.

The first two of these options are fairly straightforward. However, a “deferred sale of home order”, also known as a “Duke” order (named after a significant case on the issue), requires some explanation. Deferred sales are usually considered when the parties have minor children and want the children to be able to stay in the family home until a later date. A custodial parent, in these situations, is given exclusive use and possession of the home on a temporary basis so that the kids can stay there.

In determining whether to allow a deferred sale, the family court must first consider whether it is economically feasible to do so. The court must balance the relative hardship of the parent and children staying in the home with the hardship placed upon the parent no longer living there. The law requires that certain factors be considered in making these determinations. It also requires that the deferred sale of home order contain an end date, such as the date the youngest minor child attains the age of majority or graduates from high school.

In addition to the disposition of the home, the family court will have to determine whether one party must reimburse the other for “contributions for the acquisition of property”. These reimbursements may be required if one party made the down payment on the family residence out of separate funds. They may also be required if separate funds are used to pay down the principal on the home.

As you can see, many factors impact how the family residence is handled in a divorce. How these issues are presented can significantly affect your outcome. Judy Burger is experienced in complex property division matters and how to present those in family court. Please contact her today at (415) 259-6636.