COVID-19 has impacted all sectors of the economy, including real estate. The uncertainty is particularly challenging for homeowners who are at a crossroad in their relationship or in the process of separating.

The heightened tension created by the pandemic can fuel anger and conflict, leaving children especially vulnerable. If it becomes too tense in the residence and someone needs to leave, the process has become a little more challenging than before, but there are still viable options.

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Should homeowners sell when there is a separation during the pandemic?

At the time of writing, real estate remains a sellers’ market with little supply. It may be more difficult for families in need of alternative living arrangements to allow for a physical separation.

It is also challenging for couples to get an accurate value of their property because the markets are in such flux. Compounding this is the difficulty for a spouse to qualify for a mortgage if their income has been affected by a layoff or a termination as a result of the coronavirus. With such an overwhelming scenario and an uncertain economy, now may not be the best time to make important decisions such as selling the family home.

It may make more sense to access short-term rental accommodation during the pandemic while the legalities of the separation are sorted. The protocols for finding a rental property have changed to accommodate physical distancing, with virtual showings, and only people with serious offers may be able to attend in person to see the place before finalizing the offer to lease.

Consider the best interest of children

Couples struggle to know if it is in their children’s best interest to stay together under the same roof, even if there is a lot of acrimony, or if it’s better to live physically apart.

While it’s likely harmful to the children’s well-being if the family stays together under tense or acrimonious circumstances, there may also be harm to the children if a parent leaves without a formal parenting plan in place. Struggling parents should look for counsellors, lawyers, mediators and financial planners who now offer their services by phone or videoconference, to get quick, professional guidance toward the solutions that work best for the family’s circumstances.

Who pays what?

Money is often the biggest source of conflict, and this could get worse if someone’s livelihood was affected by the pandemic. They struggle to find a fair way to pay the household expenses and the children’s expenses after the decision to separate has been made – even if they continue to live under the same roof.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there are many ways to deal with expenses. It depends on a number of factors, including who has financial resources. It may make sense to continue the same arrangements that were in place before the decision to separate until professionals can guide the family towards different arrangements.

In some cases, couples put an agreed amount of money in a joint account and use that to pay family expenses until there is a more long-term arrangement in place. Sometimes, separating spouses may even be able to structure their payments in a way that maximizes tax savings. It should be noted that if a couple decides to live in two separate residences during separation, these expenses are shared equally.

Family laws are fairly complex when it comes to finances and money, and it is recommended to speak to a family law lawyer or mediator about these types of questions.

Legal ways to separate

Among the various legal approaches, there are two very good options for separating families, and they are collaborative negotiations and mediation. These two systems are encouraged as the first choice under Ontario’s revised Family Law Act, to help families reach agreements out of court with the aim of preserving some kind of relationship after the legal process is complete. The cost also tends to be less than going to court.

Professionals that work in these two systems have received special negotiation and communication training, using specific techniques that are very beneficial to helping their clients and families.

Especially with courts closed during the pandemic, and only urgent matters being heard, collaborative negotiation and mediation offer fantastic avenues for couples to quickly access help and find solutions that are best for their family’s needs.


  1. And what about: whose responsibility is the subject property related rental-contracts that actually might have only the signature of one owner on the contract?

    And then there’s this current horror story in the news. The subject property sounds like the owner might have been on her own… pretty scary indeed.

    Part of this article states:
    “Ontario’s former privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian says privacy protection rules ought to be written into contracts for home security systems.(Onnig Cavoukian)”

    New homeowner ‘freaked out’ when stranger took control of her security system
    A new homeowner discovers a stranger can disarm the alarm, unlock windows and doors and track when she comes and goes from her new house. Security and privacy experts say the situation is the result of weak laws and cancellation policies written to benefit companies instead of protecting customers.

    Read in CBC News:

    Shared from Apple News

    It would appear that the homeowner might be living on her own based on the newspaper story description; doubly horrifying if so. In my situation I had moved because I was being stalked by my 30-year ex because he wanted to get back together. With that kind of app access available, and had this CBC story happened to me it would have indeed been traumatizing.

    Having experienced a dreadful situation when I only once bought a resale property, aware that lawyers do not process existing equipment rentals when registering title changes, I had requested privately that the existing owner cancel the monitored alarm service and to make whatever arrangements necessary to cancel the contract she had with the alarm company. I didn’t want to receive some sort of automatic invoicing that I had never agreed to.

    I intended to contract with a different alarm company.

    The first week I was in my new location, something triggered the untouched alarm system late at night. I couldn’t turn the wailing alert off. The police showed up at my door thinking the house had been broken into; I had to prove my ownership. The wail was deafening. I had immediately phoned the alarm company emergency number noted in the alarm unit.

    They wouldn’t take my call because “I” was not their customer. They had no way to know I was the current owner. They would not shut off the wailing siren likely waking the neighbours.

    The cop went with me to the basement install area. Unplugging the the system electrical supply didn’t shut down the siren. With my permission, even so saying he shouldn’t do so, using my pliers he cut the wires.

    The alarm company never did contact me to pick up their equipment. The old owner insisted the alarm company contract had been disengaged. Apparently not true, according to the alarm company. They wanted her current address. I didn’t have it.

    This brought to my attention that a proprietary clause maybe should be in resale offers, one that requires “confirmation” of compliance for disengaging any existing rental contract on any rental or contractually related arrangement tied to the subject property. Many properties have rental furnaces HVAC systems in recent years. Especially senior-owned houses.

    Because lawyers don’t get involved with rental contracts buyers and sellers seem to be on their own re this topic especially if their real estate agent has not addressed all possibilities.

    I have noted this topic in prior REM posts. But no one commented.

    Carolyne L ?

  2. * Getting Divorced? – a list of a 50 questions you need to consider
    (and – Should you Sell the house? or Buy out your Spouse?)

    This article I wrote is years old. I have had emails literally from all over the world (clearly outside my trading area) thanking me for information often not thought about.

    Back in the late 1970s I had had the opportunity to be chosen to edit a textbook on divorce mediation. It provided an interesting learning curve for when in 1997 I faced having to break a 30-year abusive marriage that took six years to finalize and tens of thousands of dollars because I had poor legal advice.

    My article even so old might trigger some helpful thoughts for the here and now.

    Carolyne L ?


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