Deciding to divorce is one thing – actually being able to move on is quite another. Over the weekend, the Daily Mail threw the spotlight onto on a couple facing a scenario that will be familiar to many: they going through a divorce but struggling to sell their home. This is an issue increasing numbers of divorcing couples have had to contend with since the recession. The will to sell is there alright, but there are no buyers on the market, so the asking price drops, reducing the equity each of the parties will receive – and still there are no buyers. In 2010 I would say things seemed to hit rock bottom, but in the last year, perhaps, there has been a glimmer of light on the horizon.
Here at Stowe Family Law LLP, we are finding that houses that were once sticking are starting to sell – but although there have been brisk sales and rocketing prices in central London , the rest of the country certainly hasn’t been that fortunate. And so for divorcing couples, the nightmare scenario – divorced but forced to stay together- continues relentlessly until the house – eventually – sells.
How different it all was pre-2008! Then we often received instructions from spouses who refused to move out, to do everything possible to avoid the inevitable sale. I had one client who managed to stay in possession of her home for five years after the order for sale was made. Today, by contrast, couples appear only too glad to get the process over and done with, and start afresh. But these are couples who haven’t been the best of friends, to put it mildly, during the divorce. Now they have no choice but to wait, in the same home, until a sale is achieved.
I wonder how many couples do then settle down, faced with a situation that they can’t change?
Once the legal process has run its course and they both know what is going to happen to them and the children – do they start to grin and bear it? Or do things get fraught?
We, as solicitors, are unlikely to find out because our job is done, but I was interested to read the Mail’s article about Suzie and Tudor Thomas, who have lived in West Walton, close to the Norfolk-Cambridgeshire border, since 1994. They have four children, with ages ranging from 19 to 11, but in summer 2011 the paper reports, the couple decided that their marriage had run its course and put their home up for sale. It still hasn’t sold. So the Daily Mail article just might – who knows- throw up the buyer they are desperately seeking.
In the meantime, as neither could afford to buy out the other’s interest in the property, the former couple were forced to continue living together in the property, a converted Georgian mill. Earlier this year, Suzie finally moved into a new house in the nearly village of Long Sutton with the couple’s three youngest children.
The mill home, meanwhile, still hasn’t sold, and the couple, increasingly anxious to move on, now plan to auction it, at a guide price significantly lower than the amount they had asked for while the house was listed by estate agents.
Tudor, an engineer, told the paper:
“I’m really cut up about having to sell it as it’s been such a wonderful family house. I’m still living here until we sell but I have to admit the life has gone out of it now the family is gone, which is horrible. It’s become a literal millstone around our necks.”
Yes, the Thomas’ home is large and rural and so the particular challenges they have faced in finding a buyer will not be quite the same as those encountered by former couples living in more ordinary properties. But many divorcees will identify with their dilemma. Selling any former matrimonial home is a process fraught with uncertainty in a still stagnant economy and finding that elusive buyer can be a source of stress, uncertainty and delay to one-time couples keen to go their separate ways.
Paying the rent on a second home while continuing to pay the mortgage on the unsold first can be a real struggle if income is stretched or uncertain.
Luckily for the Thomases, at least, the picture painted in the Daily Mail article is of a couple who are still on good terms. Suzie tells the paper:
“We still love each other and really care about each other but we can’t live together.”
They found a way of dealing with the situation, and good for them. But for how many other couples out there does this particular nightmare continue?