FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Aug. 24, 2012 – Question: During my divorce 20 years ago, there was a court order to sell and divide all equity in our home. At that time, there was no equity in the house I shared with my then-wife. So the house was never sold, and I continued to live there. Now, two decades later, I have independently paid off the mortgage, but my ex-wife’s name is still on the deed. Is she now entitled to any equity? –Freddy
I get a question similar to this several times a month. One person pays off the debt on a property, only to realize that an ex-partner still owns half of it. You and your ex-wife still own the property, and her ownership interest will need to be dealt with before you can sell or refinance the home. Your best bet is to try to speak with her and see if you can come to an agreement in which you “buy out” her interest for a reasonable price.
If this is not possible, you may have to go back to court and let a judge decide how much her ownership is worth. The court will consider the fact that you paid off the mortgage and took care of the house.
If you can’t find your ex-wife, or she has died, the situation gets more difficult. If you can’t find her, the court likely will appoint someone to represent her interests in the case and proceed to split the property as I described above. If she has died, then you will need to deal with her probate estate or her heirs and buy them out. Or you can take them to court to decide how much they are due.
Like any court case, this may be expensive.
Bottom line: It’s important that you handle property ownership issues at the time of the break-up or divorce, because dealing with the problem gets worse, and more expensive, as time goes on.
About the writer: Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He is the chairperson of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is an adjunct professor for the Nova Southeastern University Paralegal Studies program.
The information and materials in this column are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is formed. Nothing in this column is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney, especially an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.
Copyright © 2012 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Gary M. Singer. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service.