The HOUSE: Should I stay, or should I go?
Sounds simple enough.
The matrimonial home is the nucleus of negotiations when a marriage crumbles. It is also the heart of the emotional, physical and financial spaces we occupy.
For most of us, the matrimonial home is the biggest asset we own. Yet, it is the place we call home…where you’ve pencil-marked 3’10” on your daughter’s door post.
So what’s the final answer? Should you stay, or should you go?
Not so simple – is it?
The matrimonial home occupies a sacrosanct place in the legislation that governs your entitlements when separating. Part II of the Family Law Act defines the matrimonial home as:
Every property in which a person has an interest and that is or, if the spouses have separated, was at the time of separation ordinarily occupied by the person and his or her spouse as their family residence is their matrimonial home. R.S.O. 1990, c. F.3, s. 18 (1).
To break it down – an interest means ownership; specifically, ownership of the place occupied until separation as a spouse. A portion of that home is an entitlement. But you don’t need a lawyer to explain that part. Most people know that getting half of the house is what you are entitled to.
So, what do you do with the house that you’ve invested much of you hard earned income into?
1. You call realtors to ask what they think you can get for the house – if you decide to leave.
2. You look up housing market trends to see when the best listing date might be.
3. You ask the bank whether they will let you assume the existing mortgage – if you decide to stay.
4. You look around to find a townhouse or a condo nearby.
5. You arm yourself with options.
But what do these options mean for you?
I always thought of my matrimonial house as a “work in progress” – my life’s project. When my ex-husband gave me a sparkling diamond bracelet for a past anniversary, I asked to return it so we could save up for a kitchen renovation. I poured through pages of House and Home and visualized a fancy island where all the kids, and their future boyfriends and girlfriends, would gather before sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner.
When I was searching for answers, I walked around the halls and glimpsed into the past days of love and anguish lived in our home. I sat at the kitchen table and looked out into the backyard where the jungle gym still stood from my little girl’s 7th birthday party (when she was just 3’10”)…
I asked myself: How do I leave this place?
Only one thing was sure: leaving that place, and that very moment in my life, required fortitude. I am not sure how anyone gathers fortitude, but I do know what worked for me. For me, it was to plan and seek support. Planning a step-by-step process with someone there to remind me of my priorities and entitlements was what I needed.
I am a collaborative family lawyer who has explored (and survived)
the perplexing question – ‘should I stay or should I go’.
I can support you and help you move through yours.