When a Couple Opts To Put Asunder What God Hath Joined

By Bill Primavera

The Home Guru

Depending on which statistics are to be believed, perhaps more than fifty percent of us today decide not to heed the Bible’s warning in Matthew that “what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” And, we in the real estate business know that divorce is a primary catalyst for selling homes. 

When I got married at a young age, I knew intuitively that it would be “‘til death do us part.”  And through years of developing into maturity, adaptation to each other’s changes, enduring disappointments and problems, as well as sharing the heights of great moments, indeed, the marriage has flourished and become more cherished each year.

But for those who have a different experience with marriage, a major element of divorce is the division of property, which frequently involves the sale of a jointly-owned home. When a realtor is representing such a sale, in essence, she or he is working for both parties, and that can be an exercise in understanding and diplomacy, especially if the split is acrimonious.

If the former partners are no longer speaking to each other but conducting all business through their respective lawyers and their real estate agent, it can demand double duty in communications all around.  Add to that the strong possibility today of a short sale, and the involvement of the lender compounds the challenge at hand.

“The unfortunate thing is that you would expect that when a home is bought or sold, it would be an occasion for joy, because the people involved are either walking away with money or moving into a new house,” according to Lawrence Ivan Horowitz, a Hudson Valley lawyer based in Mount Kisco who represents many real estate transactions that involve divorce.

“But with a divorce it can be emotionally and financially draining on the couple and even beyond their control if there is a court order to get the house sold,” he continued, “and for the lawyers and realtor – there can be two different matrimonial and real estate lawyers involved – it also can be a real strain. The situation is negatively charged when you’re working with people who may have reached the lowest ebb they’re likely ever to have in their lives.”

Coincidentally, just as I was planning this column, I found myself in conversation with a woman involved in a divorce whose situation is interesting, and she gave me permission to share them anonymously.  She is selling a home that has been meticulously renovated and enlarged from a small cottage style home to a colonial of almost 3,000 sq. ft.

“Mine is an amicable divorce,” she said, “and it’s been going on for five years. My husband agreed that I could stay in the house until my son graduated from high school, but maybe I should have left before that, because it’s really too much for me to take care of, inside and out, by myself.” 

When I commented on how much great work had been done on the house, she agreed and responded, “You can be sure that I never would be giving up this house were it not for the divorce, but now I have no other option.”

I know of another situation with a different kind of ending that gives me a great deal of pleasure to report here, again with permission.  It involves a couple who more than a year ago showed up at my office unannounced and asked for me. Flatteringly enough, they said they had chosen me to list their home because, as readers of this column, they got to know me and trusted my judgment.  And then they dropped the bomb that the sale of their home was necessary because they decided to get divorced. 

I’m certainly no psychologist or divorce counselor, but in the course of a long conversation, it became apparent to me that they had enjoyed a solid marriage for many years, and I suspected that they were simply engaged in an argument and using the potential sale of the house as a way to get their feelings out with the help of an objective observer, namely me.

Based on these gut feelings, all I could say was, “Wait a minute. Are you sure you really want to do this?”   Both the wife and husband looked at me blankly, probably caught off-guard that they had encountered a realtor who was killing his chances of a deal. But they responded by both smiling and taking my advice to cool down, go home and discuss the situation further.

Bottom line, the couple is still together in the same home, we’ve even become friends, and they’ve never again mentioned divorce to me.  It gives me a good feeling that, like most realtors, I am engaged in something more than just selling houses, but am of genuine service in helping guide people through transitions and some rough spots in life. 

My handling of the situation lost me a sale, but it did fill my heart with gladness.

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® associated with Coldwell Banker and a lifestyles columnist who writes regularly as The Home Guru. For those seeking advice on home maintenance or who want to buy or sell a home, visit his website, www.PrimaveraHomes.com, or call him directly at 914-522-2076.