Splitting up: Navigating the division of property for divorcing clients

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Patience, collaboration and clear communication, Lindsey Harn writes, can help you help your divorcing clients navigate the rocky shoals of dividing their real estate holdings.

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Divorce on its own is emotionally and mentally challenging, but navigating property division makes it even more complex. Determining what to do with real property, such as a family home, adds stress and emotional turmoil for both parties. Having a well-structured roadmap for navigating these situations, therefore, is crucial to effectively get through this process. 

Find out what to include in a divorce stipulation and what to omit, so you’ll be ready to tackle some of the challenges that arise when confronted with the intricacies of property division.



To begin, there are a few things that should not be included: list price, price adjustments and timeframes. Largely, these three areas require flexibility from all parties involved, so setting rigid limits could cause more problems than necessary.

List Price: The fair market value should be determined by a real estate agent, as it is a nuanced process that involves market evaluation. To avoid arguments over an outdated valuation, a real estate agent should make this determination post-evaluation to get an accurate and current assessment. 

Price Adjustments: Settling fixed adjustments in a stipulation may not allow for the ever-changing and ever-fluctuating real estate market. Adjustments should be made based on market dynamics to ensure equitable and accurate division. 

Timeframes: Allowing for adjustments in timing ensures a realistic and fair approach, which avoids unnecessary complications. Real estate transactions are based on a myriad of factors, including market conditions, location, and property type. 

For these reasons, do not set hard limits on when to be on the market, how long to be on the market before reviewing offers, how long before adjusting price, or how long the in-spouse can be in the property.

Equity buy-out or refinance

When one spouse is considering an equity buyout or cash-out refinance during a divorce, careful planning and coordination are essential. Here are some recommendations for a smooth process:

  • To ensure that the process is handled with expertise, work with a financial professional in the field of divorce. They will be able to handle the financial aspects of both the divorce and mortgage matters of the equity buyout of refinance with ease. 
  • Set a specified deadline for the spouse planning the buyout or refinance to complete the full application. It is recommended that this time frame be no more than 90 days. Having a specific deadline is crucial to beginning the process, as it sets a specific date when the sale can be forced. This prevents arguments and gives both spouses room to determine their next steps. 
  • Set a timeline for executing the buyout or refinance, ideally no more than 180 days. This prevents prolonged financial uncertainties for both parties. It is especially considerate to the spouse who is not choosing the buyout or refinance option, as it means that there is an end date to the scenario that the other party put them in. 

These recommendations ensure an equitable and efficient process for both spouses. They create stability and allow for a backup plan if things do not go as planned. The added clarity they promote will give the spouses some emotional and mental reprieve from the stress of their divorce. These can be combined with advice from a Certified Divorce Lending Professional for more support. 

Sale of Property

Selling the property is the other option, but this option also requires cooperation from both parties. The big focus when it comes to property sales is creating and maintaining an equitable process that keeps both spouses happy. Address the following areas of the division to remove some of the hurdles in the process:

A great place to start is to contact a Certified Divorce Real Estate Expert. This person can and will assist with the process, especially since they have expertise in the crossover of real estate and divorce. 

The divorce stipulation should identify and clearly outline who is responsible for property repairs. Typically, repairs are a joint contribution, and the expenses are taken out of the sale proceeds, as this is fair. 

Identify how the sale proceeds will be distributed and divided among the two parties in the divorce stipulation. Factor in outstanding mortgage payments, contributions to property-related expenses, etc. Making this decision early prevents arguments later on. 

Settle any outstanding debts, including repair costs, before distributing the proceeds. This encourages a clear and transparent distribution of funds and can prevent either party from feeling swindled out of their money

To pad the financial blow of moving for the in-spouse, consider a partial distribution of cash before closing. If you go through with this option, establish a clear agreement on the details of this partial distribution in the stipulation, including the amount and timing. To make this decision, consider covering needs like a security deposit, storage expenses, and first and last month’s rent. 

For the out-spouse, personal property should be picked up at a specified time. This should be coordinated well in advance of the listing so that the home staging process can happen effectively. 

Timelines are key

By establishing a clear plan in the stipulation for each of these concerns, both parties can avoid conflict and confusion. Alongside these larger concerns, there are smaller details that do not require as much debate between the spouses. When selling a previously shared asset, there are a few things that should be agreed upon in writing up front:

  1. Installation of lockbox and For Sale sign.
  2. Timely signing of listing and sales paperwork by all parties on title. This should happen within one business day.
  3. Determination of open house and showing schedules by the listing agent. Unless otherwise worked out with the listing agent, occupants of the property should be prepared to make the house available seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  4. Guidelines for occupant(s) during showings and open houses. No occupants, family, friends, or otherwise should be present during showings and open houses. 
  5. Accommodation of home stagers and photographers within a specified timeframe. This should happen within seven days of the list date, unless otherwise specified. 
  6. Compliance with advice from the home stager or listing agent for property maintenance. This typically means maintaining showing conditions. 
  7. Furnishing of two sets of keys to the listing agent at the time of signing the listing agreement.
  8. In addition to addressing property matters, it is essential to consider the well-being of any animals involved. A clear plan for pets should be included; discussing these details in advance can prevent conflicts and ensure the continued welfare of beloved family pets.

Final thoughts

A well-structured divorce stipulation can be a savior when it comes to adding excess turmoil to a divorce. A great place to start is to contact a Certified Divorce Real Estate Expert, a trained neutral.

Collaboration and clear communication among the parties — the divorcing couple and the agent — will ensure a smooth process that means the focus of the divorce does not have to be selling the house.

Lindsey Harn’s results-driven approach, unmatched work ethic, integrity, and honesty have earned her top-producer status, as well as the loyalty and respect of her clients and colleagues. Connect with Lindsey on Instagram and Linkedin.

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