Negotiating a House Buy Out in a Divorce in California

Protecting your assets is one of the most important considerations when getting a divorce, and the home is typically the most valuable asset for most families.  A buyout is when one spouse wants to keep the house and decides to pay the other spouse for their interest.  A buyout might be preferable to one spouse for many reasons:  keeping continuity for the children, if the house is sentimental, to avoid the cost of moving, to avoid paying taxes on a sale of the home, if the house is financed with a good interest rate, etc.  This article will discuss the steps to work through to make a good buy out offer. 

  • Determine who owns the home. 

California courts presume that a home acquired during the marriage is community property, meaning that the home needs to be divided 50/50.  However, the analysis of whether the home is community or separate property can be more complicated than that, for example, if the home was purchased prior to the marriage or if the home was inherited by one spouse.  Although a detailed analysis of these rules is beyond the scope of this article, the first step in the buy out process is to determine whether the home is, in fact, community property.   See for the presumption that the home is community property. 

  • Determine the value of the home. 

There are many ways to determine the value of the home.  The most thorough may be to obtain one or more assessments from a licensed property assessor.  The process involved generally includes looking at comparable homes in the area, which are properties with similar square footage, condition and year in the same neighborhood.  However, if the expense of a formal assessment is cost prohibitive, you can also obtain a comparative market analysis from a realtor.  A comparative market analysis (CMA) is an estimate based on recently sold, similar properties in the immediate area.  If you don’t want to pay a professional, you can also do your own research on homes through Zillow or Redfin. 

  • Consider the financing. 

Your buyout offer may require a refinance of the mortgage.  It is often helpful to talk to a lender and find out the rates and cost of the refinance before approaching your ex-spouse with a buyout offer.  This way you have your “ducks in a row” before beginning a negotiation process. 

  • Don’t forget the paperwork. 

Property is transferred through paperwork called a deed.  A commonly used document is a quitclaim deed.  A quitclaim deed transfers whatever interest the grantor has to the other person.  This means that if there are liens or other encumbrances on the property, then those will also be transferred in the quitclaim deed.  This deed will remove the spouse transferring their interest from the title. 

If you need help with a divorce and in particular if you’d like an advocate in the home buyout process, please contact the Law Office of David Knecht, at 707-451-4502.  We have extensive experience in family law.