Divorce & Real Estate

On this blog, we at NEATSPACES aim to extend compassion and legitimacy to the full range of human experiences. In past articles, we have dealt with end-of-life plans, hoarding and empty nest syndrome, among several other topics. Now, we turn our attention to another of life’s complicated experiences: divorce.

Per Stats Canada, approximately 40% of marriages in Canada end in divorce (though that number shifts year-over-year, dipping slightly during the pandemic). Subsequently, roughly two out of five married couples in Canada will experience the tumult of divorce, navigating its rocky emotional waters and complex legal labyrinth. 

The challenging experience often crests with the division of real estate – the “matrimonial home,” in legal terms. Homes are unlike other assets. To start, they are often the most valuable joint asset a couple owns. And they typically bear emotional value far exceeding any monetary figure.

This article explores the topic of divorce & real estate from an unbiased, compassionate standpoint. Below, we cull what we can from Ontario family law, and use our ample experience as one of Canada’s leading home organizing companies to offer information and guidance.

Dividing the Matrimonial Home: What to Know and Expect

When a couple divorces in Ontario, an arbitrator may turn to the provisions detailed in the Ontario Family Law Act. Under the Act, the matrimonial home (that is, the home a married couple lives in at the time of separation) enjoys unique legal status. Those stories you hear about an empowered spouse changing the locks after a divorce? They aren’t true – at least not here in Ontario.

Unlike other property, the matrimonial home must be divided equally regardless of original ownership or receipt. Even if a person bought or inherited a home before the marriage, both parties are entitled to an equal division of value (including any increase in value). Crucially, a matrimonial home may only be sold if both spouses consent.

Reaching a Consensus

So, the first step in dividing a matrimonial home is reaching a consensus. As mentioned, both parties must consent to a sale. If one party sells the home without the other’s consent, things get very complicated – the purchaser must assume the property subject to the second party’s interests, or a court may dismiss the transaction. It’s a messy process that you want to avoid.

At the same time, we understand how pointedly emotional the process can be. You might have shared this home with your spouse for decades. You might have raised kids here, hosted mutual friends or held milestone events. The home might be suffused with memories, both tangible and intangible. Letting go isn’t easy.

To reach a consensus, your two options are as follows:

  • Buy your spouse out of the matrimonial home (including the assumption of regular monthly payments), or vice versa
  • Or decide together to sell the matrimonial home

In either case, you will have work to do. If you decide to sell the matrimonial home, you will need to  prepare the home for its market debut and clear out your (equitably divided) possessions. If you or your spouse decide to hold on to the home, one party must clear their belongings to make way for the sole ownership.

In the sections below, we cover both options. First, we detail how to prepare a home for sale, including how to properly stage your home for maximum value. Next, we cover the process of one party leaving the home.

Home organizing professionals declutter a matrimonial home

Selling: Cleanout, Improvements, Staging, Communication and Support

Selling a family home is challenging even under amicable circumstances; throughout a divorce process, contentions may arise that further complicate the process. The key here is to take ample time for your emotional wellbeing and, however possible, engage in constructive communication with the other party.

There’s a lot to do. The first step is to engage a trustworthy realtor, preferably an agent specializing in divorce and downsizing. Together, with the expert practitioner acting as intermediary, you can assess current market conditions and arrive at a target sale price, minimum allowable sale price and marketing plan.

Next come the daunting tasks of decluttering, organization and staging. As you embark on clearing out your divided possessions, consider enlisting NEATSPACES’ help. The process exacts a physical and emotional toll that we have ample experience shouldering. Our compassionate decluttering, organizing and move management services help ensure that your journey from the matrimonial home to a new life chapter is as effortless as possible. Consider reading through our resource on pre-listing organizing tips, or give us a call directly.

Next, explore our article on home staging (linked above). In it, we detail how to minimize furniture in an effort to give your home “breathing room” (prospective buyers like to imagine their new lives against a relatively blank canvas). We also talk about accentuating a home’s attractive features and sprucing up your curb appeal to make a positive first impression. In addition to lowering your home’s “days on market,” these efforts may raise the value of your home.

Holding on: Move Management and Reorganization

If you choose to trigger the second consensus option, you’ll find yourself in one of two situations: you will be the one leaving the matrimonial home, or you will be the one staying.

If you plan to leave, you must prepare for a likely downsize. Again, NEATSPACES can help you – as we’ve helped countless others. As you prepare to move out, talk to our move management professionals about gathering, sorting, boxing and moving your possessions to a new home. Our move management professionals can also unload your possessions on the other side, helping set up the new space and implement organizational systems.

If you’re the one staying in the matrimonial home, it’s time to reorganize. Making a matrimonial home “your own” after years of cohabitation will take time. Each fixture and doorway may remind you of a life you decided to move on from – and you might want a fresh start. NEATSPACES can help with that too. Our organizational experts can work with you to personalize the space, lending an individual touch to each closet and room. We can also help you declutter excess belongings for sale, which may help you build a nest egg as you assume the monthly payments on your own.

We hope this article offers guidance and information during a transformative period. The challenges ahead may seem insurmountable, but with a diverse support group – legal professionals, knowledgeable realtors and home organizing experts – you can start your new life on the right foot.

For downsizing, moving and organizing services in the Greater Toronto Area contact us today!