More and more people are splitting from their spouses or partners - in fact, nearly 50% of marriages now end in divorce. When they do the fate of the family home can be a highly emotive subject.
Not only does the property represent a significant financial investment but it may also be the home where children have been raised and the family based over the years.
Exactly what happens to your mortgage will largely depend on your plans for the property and your individual circumstances.
Pay the mortgage
If you are going through a divorce and have moved out of the family home you may wonder if you need to keep paying the mortgage.
It is worth remembering that when two people take out a joint mortgage both are agreeing to be equally liable for the debt for the duration of the mortgage, not just while you live there.
In other words, both you and your partner are responsible for ensuring the mortgage continues to be paid, and as a result, any failure to pay on time will damage you and your partner's credit histories.
This situation can sometimes lead to one person refusing to pay; threatening to do this can ultimately backfire if a court has to make a ruling on the divorce at a later date.
Contact your bank
As soon as you know you will be separating you should contact your bank - especially if you think you may struggle to meet your mortgage payments until the divorce is finalised.
Due to the frequency of divorce and separations, most banks are more sympathetic than in years gone by and may even be willing to offer payment holidays to couples going through a separation.
While this can give you some breathing time while dealing with the initial separation, the original mortgage agreement will still be in place and a long term solution will need to be reached.
What are your options?
Going forward there are usually 3 broad options for couples with a mortgage;
Sell up and move out
If both you and your partner will be moving out of the property then often the easiest way to move forward is to sell the house and pay off the mortgage.
This can provide a clean break and be the least messy way of moving on after a separation.
In these circumstances any equity left after the mortgage has been paid off will be considered a marital asset and split between the two of you.
Exactly who gets what from the leftover funds can be open to dispute, often the quickest (and cheapest) way is to reach an agreement between the two of you about who gets what.
If you cannot reach an agreement then the matter would need to be settled in the divorce court, where you would need to seek legal advice on your rights.
Keep the property
If either you or your partner intends to live in the home then chances are you will need to come to a solution that transfers ownership to the occupier.
Transferring the mortgage into one name will involve one partner buying the others share in the property, including their share of any equity involved.
The first hurdle you will face is proving that the occupier will be able to afford the mortgage on their own - remember the existing lender is under no obligation to remove either of you or to transfer the mortgage to one name.
However, if you can satisfy your lender that you can afford the mortgage then chances are that they will agree to you becoming the sole mortgage holder.
You will then need to buy your ex-partner's share in the property before the mortgage can be put into your name - this may involve getting the current value assessed to determine the level of equity in the property.
Again, if you need to borrow money to fund purchasing your partner's share you would need to prove that you could afford the additional borrowing.
If you would prefer to move out and sell your stake in the house to your partner, this would work in exactly the same way.
Moving your joint mortgage into just one name can provide the same financial break as selling up while keeping ownership of your existing home.
However there are several obstacles to overcome, and if there is some dispute over the value of the property or the level of equity owed to your partner you could find yourself in court to negotiate a settlement.
Continue to pay your existing mortgage
In some circumstances, you may decide to continue paying the existing mortgage, especially if you do not have long left and the divorce is on good terms.
If you are considering this option you would need to ensure that both you and your partner can continue to afford to pay the mortgage and any other living costs.
This may also be a good option for the mid-term if you mortgage is fixed for a number of years and would mean you would pay high mortgage charges to move elsewhere.
What if you are in negative equity?
If you are facing a divorce while your joint home is in negative equity then your options are likely to be restricted due to your inability to sell the home to pay off the mortgage in full.
In this situation, you should speak to your mortgage provider to discuss your options, as it may be that you will have to split the outstanding debt between you or come to an agreement with your mortgage provider.
Remember: unless you act, the joint mortgage will remain in place which will hold you equally liable for mortgage repayments.
Again, if you are uncertain you should seek independent legal advice.
Each of these solutions can appeal to separating couples in different circumstances, for example if there are no children involved then selling the property and cutting your losses may prove the best option.
However, if your property is the family home then either you or your partner may want to continue living there to reduce the impact of the divorce on your children.
Whatever option you are considering, you should seek independent advice on your circumstances; you could use a solicitor or there are several charities and other organisations that can explain what you will need to do and point you in the direction of legal advice if required. Contact Relate or Citizens Advice for help and advice.
You could also discuss your financial options with an independent financial adviser; here is a look at how to find one you can trust.
No name on the deed?
If you are separating from your partner and your name is not on the mortgage or deed of the house that does not mean that you have no rights or claim on the property.
When it comes to divorce in the UK, the matrimonial home is considered a joint asset and you cannot be forced to leave by your partner.
If your name is not on the mortgage or deed you can register your matrimonial rights through the Land Registry to stop your partner selling without your consideration.
However, it is worth noting that if your partner owned the property before your marriage then you will have little legal claim to it when it comes to divorce proceedings.
If you find yourself in this situation you should seek legal advice to determine exactly where you stand.
Disagreements and legal rulings
Ultimately, if your divorce has not proved as amicable as you had hoped and there is some dispute over who is entitled to what, then you may be faced with going to court.
You should be aware that very rarely is it a case of a simple 50/50 split when divorce proceedings head to the courts.
Courts take into consideration a wide range of circumstances when making a decision on what happens to the marital home.
If there are children then their well-being will be the primary concern of the court, they will also consider both parties' financial circumstances when making a decision.
If your divorce has reached this stage then you will need to seek independent legal advice. While this can be a time consuming and expensive undertaking, it is the only realistic option you have when faced with a trip to court.
However you could avoid a disruption and a drawn out, expensive divorce if you can agree as much as possible beforehand. Try using a third party like the Family Mediation Council, who may be able to help.
Remember to consider other financial assets
From an emotional perspective, the fate of your home is likely to be at the top of the agenda when negotiating a divorce; however, you should also consider what will happen to other financial assets as well.
Most people believe the home represents their biggest marital asset, yet depending on age and individual circumstances pension funds that you have built up over the course of your marriage may actually be worth more.
For step by step information on coping with the financial impact of divorce or separation take a look at our guide to getting a fair financial divorce settlement. It is also worth reading about how to separate your finances from your ex-partner.