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Divorce and Home Values: Till Equity Do Us Part

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By Mary Shanklin

h(MCT)—Forget the whole “till death do us part” thing.

Many unhappy couples are now calling it quits, local divorce attorneys and real-estate agents say, for one simple reason: Home prices have been rising, which means they can finally get some start-over cash out of houses that used to be underwater.

“So many couples have been living together and biding their time,” Orlando lawyer Leigh Sigman said. “I know many people who have coasted for years and touched base with me periodically — until they got equity in their homes.”

Before the 2007-09 recession, couples who divorced vied first for the children and then for the real-estate assets, Sigman said. But once the economic downturn stripped houses of half their value, the one-time happy abode became the hot potato that no one wanted in a divorce because it came with a mountain of mortgage debt — “worse than credit cards,” Sigman said.

For better, for worse — or at least until the house can sell for a profit?

Exactly how the housing market might be affecting the divorce rate is uncertain. In Orange County, divorces were on the downslide from 2007 to 2008, heading into the recession, but the per-capita rates for the county have increased since then. Meanwhile, home values have had a bumpy ride over the same stretch, bottoming out in 2011 before rallying in the past 21/2 years.

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