Fischer: Dealing with divorces just part of the real estate gig
According to Groucho Marx, marriage is the chief cause of divorce. Unfortunately, these less-than-profound words become reality for about 50% of the population nationwide. As much as new marriages facilitate the need for new housing options, divorce also, many times, precipitates the need for new housing options as well. The regrettable truth is, more of our business as Realtors comes from this misfortunate event than we would like; however, once the decision has been made to split up, the need for an experienced, neutral real estate professional who is familiar with the process throughout such a sensitive time becomes imperative.
The emotions that accompany a failed marriage can run the gamut. Not only have I been a witness to the evolution of such intensity throughout the process, but I have experienced these emotions myself … twice. All the pain, anger, hurt, frustration, sadness and, at times, elation, depending on the circumstances. While I recognize that this is not something to brag about, it is also not something I am afraid to admit, especially to clients who are going through the same thing. If I can make it through to the other side, anybody can.
Since I am not an attorney, I consulted with the Utah State Courts website and solidified the information with a few local family law attorneys for information regarding property division. Assuming divorcing persons do not agree upon who receives the home, the court can do one of the following: 1) order the custodial parent to remain in possession until the children turn a specific age; 2) order the home be awarded to one party while the other receives assets from the marriage equal to the value of one half the equity of the home; 3) allow one individual to buy out the other person’s interest in the home (assuming they are financially able); or 4) order that the home be sold and the resulting equity split between the two parties.
Personally, I was very fortunate with both of my divorces. The first time, we agreed that I would keep the home and he could keep the retirement, since I was the custodial parent of the children, and the second (a brief and deeply regretted union) I had put a prenuptial in place the day before we were married. Don’t ask. I am just as embarrassed about this amalgamation as you are for me. Other divorcing couples I have worked with have not been so lucky.
I have worked with some challenging situations, including gun threats, restraining orders, suicide attempts and even jail sentences. In one court-ordered sale, I had to stand outside the home while the ex-husband entered the garage to get his guns. His ex-wife was inside shaking and crying. My job was to offer her some comfort while expediting his mission to gather the specifics … all while staying neutral. Another time, a seller accused me of knowing her husband was having an affair. I was honestly clueless. I hadn’t met either of them before the sale. The referral had been given to me by a previous client. Emotions run high in these contexts. Sadly, she was one who had to spend some time inpatient before we closed.
As Realtors representing the real estate transaction(s) in a divorce case, we have a responsibility to be compassionate but stay detached. Both individuals must be kept informed equally while focusing on our primary job … to sell the homes at the best price as quickly and painlessly as possible. Separate but equal communication throughout the process is key. It is not an easy job, yet it is a job that needs to be done for each person to begin to move forward. I get it. However, I also get that there can be a bright light and a surprisingly beautiful life on the other side of the dark tunnel. That is why it is worth it.
Jen Fischer is an associate broker and Realtor. She can be reached at 801-645-2134 or firstname.lastname@example.org.