Ready for a Divorce? Your House Isn't

David and Tipheny DelPrado divorced in 2006. But the legal battle between the two didn't begin to wind down until this month, and the housing slump may be partly to blame.

Under their 2005 separation agreement, Tipheny DelPrado was supposed to assume the mortgage on the couple's three-bedroom Virginia home. For her, that meant either refinancing the mortgage or selling the house.

Tipheny DelPrado argued that the poor housing market was keeping her from making a sale, but that didn't stop a judge from threatening to put her in jail on a charge of contempt of court, said J.B. Thomas, the lawyer for David DelPrado.

The couple reached an agreement earlier this month that kept Tipheny DelPrado out of jail: If she fails to sell or refinance the home by mid-July, she'll have to give it to her ex-husband.

Tipheny DelPrado did not respond to requests for an interview.

"If she really wanted to sell the house, she would have to do anything it took to sell it," Thomas said. "She might not get the price she wants, she may not even get near the price she wanted had she sold it two or three years ago."

The DelPrados may represent an extreme case, but they're far from the only divorcing couple coping with housing woes. Divorce lawyers and real estate agents say that more and more of their clients have found their divorces snarled by the struggles they face in selling their homes.

Last month, median house prices saw their largest annual decline in nearly a decade, while sales for single-family homes nationwide dropped 2 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. As shrinking home values, slow home sales and the credit crunch take their toll on American homeowners, splitting couples seeking to sell property might find themselves in a tougher spot than most.

"It's always complicated when people own a house, live in a house together and they need to get a divorce," said Lee Borden, a divorce lawyer in Birmingham, Ala. "It's getting more complicated now because they both know going into … a divorce that it's going to be harder to sell the house, in many cases it's going to sell more slowly."

Glenn Kelman, the chief executive of the realty Web site Redfin.com, said he knew of one couple who, while waiting for their home to sell, started to talk about reconciling.

"The housing market has just made it harder for people to make quickfire decisions and say 'I want out' and then get out," Kelman said.

"While their house sits on the market, maybe in that time there'll be a few people who remember why they loved their spouse so much in the first place," he said.

For Sale, Please!

But such happy endings are rare, and even couples who split amicably can find that selling their homes turns into a nightmare.

"It's an enormous financial drain, and even for people who have a lot of goodwill between them, it's probably taking a toll on their health as well as their finances," said Sharon Sooho, a Massachusetts lawyer and a co-founder of DivorceNet.com.

Sooho said that couples, for instance, may disagree on how to price their homes.

"They're under great pressure to make a sale," she said. "But the market is slow and if they keep reducing the price, sometimes the sale price may go below the [level of] the outstanding loan."

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