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I think we should sell our house. My spouse disagrees. Can the court order us to sell it?

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Recently updated on May 8th, 2024 at 12:43 am

Divorce (or the dissolution of marriage) brings the end of marital relationships between two people. Although it may seem simple to just call it a day in a relationship, there are many issues that require solving between the two divorcing parties. One of which is what should happen to the couples’ house. Where one spouse may feel the need to sell the house (due to current market conditions), the other may feel the complete opposite. So much so that an intervention from the court may be required to make the decision for the couple.

Courts have a responsibility to preserve the house’s value when it appears that one or both spouses is either deliberately or involuntarily causing the asset's value to decline. In the Washington State, a judge can order the sale of the house even if it goes against the wishes of the spouse unwilling to sell. The process of dividing property in a ‘fair and equitable’ manner may result in the house being sold. This could be the case when either (or both) spouse(s) are struggling with payments such as taxes.

My spouse may be stalling on selling the house

 Some couples are in immediate agreement over the sale of the house. As divorcing couples move on to greener pastures, they feel the profits accumulated from the sale will help them establish themselves in their new life, so a court order is not required. The sale also helps eradicating any sort of financial and emotional burden that the spouses may still share together. The mortgage obligations also become harder to disburse as the couple separates. The sale is especially important when the ‘breadwinner’ of the family loses a job and is about to be evicted. The court can then order the sale of the house so profits (from the sale) will salvage some value of the house and can assist both spouses during the divorce process.

However, some divorces take a lot of time and usually lands both parties in a very chaotic situation. Even after a court order has been (for the sale of the house), one of the two spouses may have objections on the selling price of the house. Before the sale is administered, it is best advised for both spouses to consult a (Washington based) realtor in order to get an estimated value of the house in the current market conditions. If one spouse is showing reluctance in selling the house at the price suggested, the judge can then order the opposing spouse to get a second opinion from a different realtor. If the difference in prices are massive, the court usually takes an average of the two valuations and then administers the sale. If time is of the essence, the court can then independently hire a realtor of its own and value the house without the opinion of the two spouses.

“Fair and Equitable” distribution of property in Washington

 Washington is a ‘no-fault’ state, which means that a spouse is only required to declare that there has been a permanent breakdown in marriage to obtain a divorce. As a consequence, Washington implements a ‘fair and equitable’ system of dividing property in divorce. This allows a court to distribute marital property in a way which does not necessarily mean that each party is entitled to fifty percent of the marital property.

Being a community property state, all assets and debts amassed during the length of the marriage is jointly owned by the couple. Any sort of property and debt acquired before or after the marriage are not considered marital property for example, inheritance(s), gifts etc.

However, a Washington court offers some sort of flexibility to its clients when dividing marital property. The court considers factors such as the nature of the property (in this case, the couples house), the length of the marriage and both spouses’ financial position before making a ruling on how to divide the property. If the court suspects that one party will be left worse-off as a result of a fifty-fifty distribution, it may order a sale of the house to ensure both parties are financially stable for the foreseeable future.
In the same way, if there are children involved in a marriage, the court may take up the option to look at alternate ways to make a fair distribution of property as they would not want the children to lose their home.
Although the relocation of assets may not seem to be ‘equal’, the court of law makes sure both spouses can enjoy a just life afterwards.

If my divorce was caused by my ex-spouse, does it mean only I will get to have a say in the sale of the house?

 Washington is a no-fault state. Even if your ex-spouse laid the foundation for the divorce, the State of Washington will not consider of those factors when it comes to dividing property. Although, for example, your ex’s indulgence in alcohol, drug abuse etc. had left a huge dent on your finances, then the spouse’s behavior becomes absolutely relevant in the court when coming up with the most fair and equitable distribution of the property and vice versa.


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