During a divorce, property division is a major concern, and, in certain cases, a point of contention. Houses, often a couple’s largest asset and investment (in terms of emotion and memories as well as money, labor and time), are one of the most highly contested pieces of property.
Alabama adheres to an equitable distribution policy, meaning courts split property based on fairness and not equality. Because of this, who retains the family home is not always a cut-and-dry decision.
Is the home separate or marital property?
Only marital assets, those obtained during the marriage and seen as shared property, are subject to division. Generally, assets a person came into the union with or inherited are separate property, which remains with him or her. This means a house an individual solely inherited or bought before getting married often falls into the separate property category.
However, the problem arises when the house’s status becomes muddled. If the spouse contributed resources, such as money, time or labor, to the house (paying the mortgage, contributing to renovations, etc.) the judge may consider the house marital property. Putting the spouse’s name on the deed also converts a house to marital property.
How do judges divide the home?
The court may order a couple to undergo mediation. The divorcing spouses have the opportunity to settle who receives the house on their own, but if that fails, the court decides based on a number of factors, which may include:
- Both parties’ age and physical and mental health
- Both parties’ extent of custody if they have a minor child
- Both parties’ current financial status and earning ability
The court may also order the house sold and the profits split between the two.
Property division may be complex. Many criteria go into determining which spouse keeps the family house.