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Home Ownership and Divorce: An Interview with Rebecca Olesen of The Guidance Office

By Rebecca Olesen

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Our office offers our clients the personalized attention of a mediation firm combined with the expertise of a law firm. Rebecca Olesen, owner of The Guidance Office, uses her training in both the law field and the social services field to ensure comprehensive, creative and thoughtful solutions for each and every client, and attorney O'Neil, who consults on every case, brings to the table over 32 years experience in many areas of law, including family law, mediation, probate/wills, real estate law and personal injury work. Our main focus is mediation and we pride ourselves on offering each family individualized and enforceable solutions and guidance during their most difficult times.

What are the main options for homeowners who are going through a divorce?

There are many options. Sometimes one spouse will stay in the home, releasing the other from the deed and agreeing to assume all financial responsibility. In this case we always add a realistic timeframe for selling or refinancing the home to remove their spouse from the mortgage. Other couples opt to sell the home and split the proceeds, often agreeing to pay off marital debts prior to getting their equity. Every family is different and therefore each situation requires its own solution. We've even drawn up mortgages between spouses to cover equity due to the moving party, to give the staying party time to build equity before refinancing.

How would you recommend that people in this situation decide whether to keep or sell their home?

Deciding what to do with the family home is often a challenge, especially in today's economy. The first question we pose to our clients is, "Can either of you realistically afford to keep the home?" Divorce often means going from one set of bills paid with two incomes to two sets paid with the same amount of money...budgets matter when talking about the house. If it isn't realistic, sell. Even if there isn't much equity, better to walk away clean than risk both parties' credit because the cost of paying for and up keeping the home is beyond someone's means.

What are some of the biggest challenges that homeowners face during a divorce?

One of the biggest challenges we see today is the "underwater" home. Many couples still owe more than they can get for the home. If one party can afford to stay in the home - at least long enough to break even - we often suggest this option. We have found, however, that some banks are working with people to avoid lengthy and expensive foreclosure processes if the couple approached the bank prior to missing a payment and working out a "give back" of sorts.

One other issue we often see is the house goes on the market and doesn't sell. What we've suggested and what seems to help is the following; price the home realistically. Don't be tempted to make a fortune off the home. It often costs more in the end in wasted mortgage payments, upkeep, taxes, etc than couples actually gets in profit after multiple price drops and months of being stuck staying in a home neither party wants.

Are there circumstances when it would be best for people to sell their home and start looking for a new place to live?

Any time it isn't fiscally sound for one or the other of the parties to stay in the home it's best to sell. It facilitates a cleaner end to the marriage, less animosity if one party is in over their head and the other person is now concerned about their credit and foreclosure is looming. Most people want to try to keep things as stable as possible for their children, but it's far more traumatic for a child to have to see a parent struggle financially and fight with their ex-spouse if the bills are overwhelming than it is to move when the divorce is taking place, sell the home and settle into a new, affordable and long-term home. Children are flexible and are also hyper-aware of stress, so if their parent is feeling overwhelmed financially, the children will feel that as well.

From your experience, do you have any advice for recent divorcees who need to buy a new home?

Advice depends on the family, but for example, if the children are older we sometimes suggest renting a house short term, saving equity from the sale of the existing home and purchasing a smaller home or condo once the children have gone off to college, etc. A three or four bedroom home often becomes a bit too much house for a single individually once children move on. There are ample homes for rent these days and it's often a nice alternative, allowing people to save up and take their time to find their ideal retirement home.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you and your company?

We can be reached either by phone at 860-305-9400 or 860-741-3057, or by email at rebecca@attorneyoneil.com. All calls and emails are promptly returned. We are open normal business hours and schedule evening and weekend hours by appointment to accommodate people's busy schedules.

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