Untangling Home Ownership With Your Ex: The Deeds And Dont's
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December 18, 2016


It is so important to get your name straightened out on deeds, mortgages, and other assets! When my ex and I broke up I was the one who left the marital home. I couldn’t stand the idea of continuing to live within those walls tainted by our marriage dysfunction- it was as though it was haunted! So, I made the choice to literally walk away from our property because I wanted our divorce to be done ASAP!

Mind you, our home was nothing fantastic. It was our starter home that was also my DIY nightmare as one project after another that my ex started never got finished. The kitchen countertops had been torn up for several months, the living room floors were in transition between carpet and eventually refinishing the wood floors, and so on and so on. I knew I didn’t have the expertise to finish the many half done jobs, and he was never going to.

I might have made a completely different decision about the house if I felt I was up to the task of maintaining and repairing its many “charms”, but I feared it was only going to become more and more of a problem. Additionally, we were upside down on the mortgage. Even if we decided to battle over the house, the best case scenario was likely that a judge would have forced us to sell the house and split the proceeds. Our castle of despair wasn’t going to earn us any profits!

I saw me leaving him with that house as a sort of gift to my kids. He made less than me, so I knew that if he were to need to rent a new home he would be unlikely to find anything halfway decent, and I hated the thought of my kids spending their week with dad in some rat hole. I knew I had a better chance of striking out on my own and finding something decent and making it home for my kids, and I was right.

If our house had been something truly valuable or I didn’t fear so much for where my kids might end up, it definitely would have been foolish to walk away from something of value that I had paid into for over a decade. In my mind, walking away from him and that house bought my ticket to freedom from oppression! Hanging onto my half of a money pit would have drawn out the process even further and quite possibly cost me money I didn’t have.

Thankfully our dissolution agreement clearly spelled out the terms of him keeping the house: moving forward from the divorce he was responsible for all taxes, utilities, upkeep, and other costs associated with the home. The last thing I wanted was to be called in as a responsible party if a tree fell on the roof or he failed to pay the taxes!

Our plan also stated that he had 30 months from the time of our dissolution to remove my name from the house. It wasn’t possible for him to complete this process at the time of the divorce, and all that was important to me was that it did happen and within a reasonable and specified amount of time.

These words of legal magic saved my hide 30 months later when my name was still on the house! Six months after our court appearance he was fired from his job. While my name was on the house I panicked because he no longer had a way to pay the mortgage, and I certainly couldn’t afford to pay both his living costs and mine just to avoid having my credit ruined with an unpaid mortgage or foreclosure.

He found out about a program that actually paid his mortgage for him (I know, right?) for up to 18 months. It kind of disgusted me that he now had a prolonged excuse not to get a job, but at least I had peace of mind that this bill in my name would be paid for that length of time.

When the 30 months had past since the divorce, I had a legitimate claim to pursue contempt of court because he had failed to follow the orders. I bristled at the thought of coming up with legal fees to take him to court, but I also knew I couldn’t let this issue slide because once his 18-month grace period was up we would be back in the predicament of no income with which to pay the bills.

My calls to the loan officer at the bank informed me that the only way my name was coming off of the house was if he sold the house (which he didn’t want to do) or re-financed. He couldn’t refinance on his own because he didn’t have sufficient funds for the bank to take a risk on him. His only option was to find a willing co-signer, which he insisted he had been unable to do.

Great! So, our orders could say he had to remove me from the house, but it was looking impossible to achieve this feat. The bank didn’t care what the court orders said because my name was on the loan. The court could hold him in contempt and force him to pay damages if the bank came after me, but I would still have to fight off creditors and damage to my record.

In the eleventh hour he found a co-signer. I have no idea who. I really don’t care because that albatross is finally off of my shoulders! The fact that he still doesn’t have a regular job will now be their baby to diaper! Because he met all of his responsibilities prior to the court hearing, we were able to cancel the hearing, which saved me some money and ended the scariest portions of this nightmare.

A loose end still hanging out there, which could certainly be easily missed was the deed, which is not to be confused with the mortgage. The deed is a title of ownership, and necessary to transfer ownership. I learned that my name was still on the deed, which could have come back to bite me if he didn’t pay taxes or needed to sell. If I hadn’t also pushed this issue, I would still be a legal owner of the house (as far as the county auditor is concerned), even if no longer on the loan.

I should have asked my lawyer more about this process, but I also feel that all of the fine points about the deed, mortgage, and how to protect myself should have been explained better. My situation could have been disastrous, but thankfully I had some protection in place to force my ex to comply with court orders and keep me from being on the hook for his financial issues.

Do your homework. Ask questions. Don’t just assume that your ex will “take care of it.” Make sure you are protected in writing in a way that can be backed up, and don’t be afraid to take it all the way to court to enforce it, if you have to!


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