Court Ordered Sale of House in California Divorce

Some couples struggle to agree on anything during a divorce. They bicker over childcare arrangements, court fees, property rights, and debts. But as much as you hate to compromise, it's best to work together and agree on these details and more in your divorce. Otherwise, a court will get involved.

If you can’t come to an agreement about property during your divorce, the judge can step in and order the sale of it (marital home, vehicle, or another physical item). The judge can also decide how to split the proceeds of that sale. 

A court-ordered sale works much the same as a standard real estate transaction. The only difference is that you have no choice whether or not to sell. If the judge orders it, you must comply.

What happens to a house when divorcing in California?

California is one of nine community-property states in America. In states like this, spouses that acquire property together during a marriage own it equally. Each owns 50% of that property. 

Forms start the divorce process, and disclosures ensure everyone shares the right information at the right time. Specifically, the Property Declaration (Fl-160) form helps couples and courts understand what the pair owns. 

Divorces are negotiations, and it's best if both sides agree on critical items like property. One party might agree to take on the mortgage and keep the house, or one party might buy a partner's share of the property's value. 

These can be tricky conversations. Property isn't easy to cut in half, and typically one person must step aside for the other to hold the property. For some, stepping aside is nearly impossible. 


When will judges step in?

You may have come to informal agreements when you separated, but those orders must become final before your divorce is complete. 

Some couples write up agreements about property and debts, and they submit those plans to a judge to decide. If couples can't decide, they require hearings or trials. There, a judge could order the sale of the property. 

Each spouse is legally required to comply with the order. If they don't, they can face penalties. If a judge decides you must sell a house, you must sell it. There isn’t wiggle room there.

What happens during the sale?

The judge makes written, final orders requiring the sale of the property. That order contains details about when the sale should start, how the proceeds will be split, and when it should be complete. 

The order is the only part of this sale that differs from a standard real estate transaction. Couples must do the following:

  • Hire an agent. An impartial third party can determine a reasonable sale price and list the home on the real estate market. 
  • Allow showings. Potential buyers must see the house in person, and they may ask inspectors to walk through it too. 
  • Review offers. People who want to buy the home will outline what they will pay. It may be higher or lower than the couple expects. Lawyers may help couples to agree in these situations. 
  • Close the deal. You’ll need to sign paperwork to transfer the sale to the new owners. 

Remember that the sale is court-ordered. Even if you disagree with the price or the process, you must move forward. 

What happens if you don’t want to sell?

This is why it's best not to leave anything up to the sole discretion of the court/judge. Once the court orders the sale of the house, it’s too late to change your mind. If you don’t want to sell the home at this point, you can’t turn back the clock. 

If you know you don’t want to sell the home, talk to your partner before your divorce is final. Come to an agreement that allows you to keep your home while recognizing your partner’s legal rights. Years from now, when you’re in the home that you love, you’ll be glad that you worked together on an agreement. 

How can I better understand my options?

We know this is a lot to take in. That's why we offer several user-friendly options for you to learn more and better understand your options.

  • Home equity buyout calculator: Access our free online calculator here.
  • Free 15-minute call: Speak with a real estate strategist to explore your options.



What Is Community Property? The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. 
Gather and Share Financial Information. Judicial Branch of California. 
Property and Debts In a Divorce. Judicial Branch of California.
Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.