Down housing market affects divorce proceedings, executions of wills
By Scott E. Pacheco
The down housing market has had a major impact on people in divorce, and in death.
As foreclosures have spiked and loans become more difficult to come by, divorce proceedings have been prolonged, and in some cases, couples have put off a pending split. And in the case of death, homes have become controversial as parts of wills.
With failed marriages, the housing situation has led not only to a slowdown in divorce closings as unhappy couples wait for a house to sell, but also to those couples cohabitating because they don't have enough assets for two homes.
"It's definitely affecting dissolution cases," said Judge Joel Brown, administrative judge of the family division of the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida.
"Often times the divorce settlement is contingent on dividing up the proceeds from the sale of the house," he said. "Sometimes the families cannot afford to live separately.
"In other words, there is not enough savings and not enough money for them to go out and get other housing."
Through the first eight months of 2007, 11,355 divorces occurred in Miami-Dade County. This year, there were 9,824 through August — about a 13.5% drop — according to numbers provided by the county.
While divorces have slowed, foreclosures have climbed at a torrid pace.
From 2006 to 2007, the number of foreclosures in Miami-Dade County shot up to 26,391, an increase of more than 250%, according to county records. Through August, the county reports 34,317 foreclosures filings — a 130% growth over all of last year.
When it comes to divorce and inability to sell a home, the largest impact might be the social and emotional implications of people who don't like each other but end up living together, Judge Brown said.
"There's the situation where people have filed for divorce, they each have their own lawyers and they are living together, sometimes with children," he said. "Because of the emotional element, the longer a divorce takes, the longer you draw out the emotional unrest. It's very unhealthy for the people to draw it out."
Possible effects could include domestic violence, Judge Brown said, adding that a best-case scenario is one where both partners can live together amicably until they can financially have the divorce.
For parents who are already split up, the poor economy has led to another trend: the increase in child support requests.
While a custodial parent may be happy that the child's other parent is out of the picture, many are now forced to seek child support to make ends meet, Judge Brown said. "They now enforce the child support because they can't make it."
In cases of death, especially if it is the last living parent, a house left to split between children can be a messy matter, said Circuit Court Judge Celeste H. Muir, probate division. "There's a lot of sibling rivalry that comes out at the time a parent dies," she said. "When both parents go it can be a problem."
This is usually because most of the parents' wealth is tied up into their home, Judge Muir said.
"When somebody dies, if their will says they sell the house, it becomes a problem," she said. "The usual scenario is the children are expecting the proceeds to be 2006 prices and not 2008."