For many couples, real estate assets pose the greatest challenges in a divorce. Although courts will typically adhere to standard legal procedures when determining ownership of a primary residence, secondary properties like vacation homes can be the source of unexpected complications. Left unaddressed, these complications can prolong the divorce process and wreak havoc on the individual finances and long-term aspirations of separating spouses.
The Alatsas Law Firm has spent years helping New Yorkers manage separation, protecting their rights while advocating their interests. The attorneys at our Brooklyn-based office represent divorce and family law clients throughout the Five Boroughs. We could help you or a loved one explore your options to resolve your share in a jointly owned vacation home.
Equitable Division in a Brooklyn Divorce
New York is an equitable distribution state. During a divorce, the court will determine how certain types of property should be distributed, with the eventual goal of distributing assets in a way that could be considered either equitable or fair.
Judges rely on many different factors in making distribution-related decisions. They might assess:
- Each spouse’s income and property interests
- The overall length of the marriage
- The needs of any minor children
However, not all assets are subject to either division or distribution.
New York’s Marital Property Laws
New York, like many states, recognizes a fundamental distinction between “separate property” and “marital property.” Separate property is typically defined as any asset acquired by an individual spouse before marriage. Marital property, in contrast, constitutes most assets acquired by one or both spouses over the course of their marital relationship, irrespective of titling differences and discrepancies.
An asset’s categorization as either separate property or marital property could have a profound impact on divorce proceedings or settlement negotiations. Since New York’s divorce courts only have jurisdiction over marital property, a judge cannot necessarily compel the division of a separately owned vacation home. So, under most circumstances, a vacation home that was purchased before marriage—or that was acquired through inheritance or shielded by a prenuptial agreement—cannot and will not be subject to division in divorce proceedings.
However, this does not mean that separate property plays no role in divorce. If the court awards alimony or child support, a spouse’s separate interest in a vacation home or other real property could be used to calculate expected contributions.
Jointly owned vacation homes, on the other hand, may figure prominently in negotiations.
Your Options for Preserving or Dividing a Vacation Home
If a vacation home or other secondary residence could be categorized as marital property, each spouse’s interest in the property must be resolved before a divorce settlement is reached.
Share the Home With Your Former Spouse
Spouses who separate on good terms, and who both have a sentimental attachment to a secondary property, may wish to retain rights of access to their vacation home. If both parties believe they can reach and respect an arrangement to visit and use the property at different times, they need not sell or otherwise dispose of the property.
However, even ex-spouses with a healthy relationship may need to talk to a family law attorney about setting boundaries. Each party should, for instance, understand their responsibility for remaining mortgage payments or the sharing of other necessary and unavoidable expenses.
Purchase Your Ex-Spouse’s Interest in the Property
After ordering an appraisal, a spouse could present an offer to purchase their former partner’s interest in the home.
Paying for interest could take the form of:
- A cash transfer, according the purchasing spouse sole ownership of the home
- One spouse forfeiting claims to property of an equivalent or similar value
- One spouse agreeing to reduce requests for spousal support in exchange for the home
Purchasing an ex-spouse’s interest in a property could help keep a secondary home in good hands, but it is not a decision without the potential for serious consequences. Refinancing a mortgage could lead to further financial problems, especially if the home requires extensive maintenance or begins to lose value.
Agree to a Sale
Sometimes, the simplest option for resolving disagreements over a vacation home is to sell the property and divide the proceeds.