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Home Ownership and Divorce: An Interview with Stephen E. Dawley, Attorney at Law

By Stephen Dawley

Tell us a little bit about your firm and the areas of law that you practice.

I have been practicing law in Framingham for over thirty years. I handle residential real estate matters including closings and litigation. I also handle other civil and criminal litigation cases. In addition I handle divorce matters and probate estates.

What are the main options for homeowners who are going through a divorce?

Once a divorce is started real estate is a marital asset, even if it is owned by only one of the parties. Parties to a divorce are prohibited from transferring or disposing of assets except under limited circumstances. Many factors go into how marital property is divided (e.g., length of the marriage, contribution to the marriage, children, etc.) so there is no hard and fast rule governing what happens to a house, but it makes sense for the parties to be clear about who contributed financially to the purchase of the house or any improvements.

How would you recommend that people in this situation decide whether to keep or sell their home?

People going through a divorce often sell or refinance their homes to deal with the financial consequences of the divorce. Conversely when there are children the custodial parent often stays in the marital home with the children until they are emancipated. The parties must be in agreement as to what happens with the house. The well-being of any children is paramount but the parties must also consider whether retaining or selling the home provides the most financial flexibility.

What are some of the biggest challenges that homeowners face during a divorce?

Because one party will be living somewhere else there is the added financial stress associated with carrying two homes. Money is usually the source of the greatest stress because the marital resources are being stretched further than before. Also, if there are children the parties must decide what the best living arrangement is for them to provide the most stable environment.

Are there circumstances when it would be best for people to sell their home and start looking for a new place to live?

People often feel attached to their homes, particularly when there are children, but sometimes people can no longer afford to carry the costs associated with the home after a divorce. This is one of the biggest decisions in a divorce but parties are better off being honest with themselves about their finances and if that means selling the marital home and moving they should do it.

From your experience, do you have any advice for recent divorcees who need to buy a new home?

Be honest with yourself. Accept that your life is changing dramatically. Seek the advice of a good lawyer and a good accountant. If you need to scale back your expectations don't be afraid to do so.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your firm?

Stephen E. Dawley, by phone at 508-879-8717, or by email at steve.dklaw@verizon.net.

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