Family Home in Divorce Part III
Stepfamilies Try to Stretch Their Space

Family Home in Divorce Part IV

By Warren R. Shiell

The following information is specific to California.

How do we determine the value of the house?


            If you decide to either to buy out the other spouse’s community interest in the house or to exchange it for another asset, you will need to know the equity and financial value of the house. The equity in the house is equal to the house’s fair market value less any debts connected to the house such as mortgages and liens. The fair market value of the house is usually assessed by a certified real estate appraiser. The parties may agree to jointly retain an appraiser to keep down costs. A certified appraiser who knows the local market may provide a more accurate appraisal than the local realtor. Sometimes couples place the house on the market to see of anyone makes any offers.


            It is important to note that if the Court is asked to calculate each spouse’s share in the house it will only consider the equity value. The court will not consider other costs that might reduce future sale proceeds such as closing costs, sales commissions and tax bills because those costs are not considered “immediate and specific.” FN5.  Therefore, if the fair market value of the house is $500,000 and the balance of all outstanding mortgages is $200,000, the equity value of the house is $300,000. If this is all community interest then each spouse will be entitled to $150,000.


            If you are trying to negotiate a settlement, you may wish to argue that the financial value of the house should be considered after taking into account taxes after sale and closing costs. This is important because once you get divorced and awarded the house you are only entitled to a $250,000 exemption on any gain. Therefore what may look like a fair bargain may not seem so fair after you factor in taxes. Consider this example: the equity value of the family home is $500,000 and the equity value of stocks and shares is also $500,000. Is this a fair exchange if the husband keeps the stocks and shares in exchange for the house? It depends. Assume that the shares have a high tax basis so that if they are sold the husband is liable for $100,000 of gain. The wife on the other hand is liable for $250,000 gain if she ever decides to sell the house. Is this still a fair exchange?


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