The Moneyist: My abusive ex never contributed to our home’s mortgage. Do I still owe him half the equity if his name is on the deed?

Dear Quentin,

My physically abusive ex and I separated a year ago (we were not married); we have two children together. I have a restraining order against him and I have primary custody of the children. 

Seven years ago, we bought a house. Both of our names are on the title but only my name is on the mortgage, since I was the only one with good credit. I was the only one who paid the mortgage. We made no upgrades to the house, as the house was renovated. He paid the utilities when he lived here, but since I filed the restraining order he does not pay them anymore. 

I want to move my children to a better area by selling this house and buying another, but I am worried that my ex will take half of the equity if I sell this house. My ex made zero contributions financially to paying for the mortgage or repairs. 

I will need the money from the sale of this house for the down payment on the next house. Going to court for custody has drained my savings. Is my ex entitled to half the equity even though I have receipts and proof of payment for all the repairs and mortgage payments?


Pennsylvania Mom

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Dear Mom,

The longer you leave this situation to drag on, the longer you will be paying for a house owned 50/50 with your ex. You are on the mortgage, so you are responsible for paying it off. But if he is on the deed of the house, as you say, he owns half. 

You could ask him to quitclaim the house to you. But it’s the last remaining power he has over your life, so I would not bet that he would do the decent thing and give up half ownership in a property that he never contributed to. 

Failing that, you would have to sell the property, but you also need his permission to do that. As a last resort, you would have to instigate a forced sale of the property — a partition lawsuit where the property is sold under court supervision.

“Even after a lawsuit is brought, the parties, through their attorneys, can agree to sell the property without court intervention, and divide the proceeds fairly,” according to the Law Offices of Weiss & Weiss. “If necessary, the court may order an inquest regarding the income and expenses of the property. Each co-owner is given the opportunity to provide evidence of their contributions to the upkeep of the property.”

“A court-appointed referee then issues a report to the court that details what each owner should receive from the property sale, incorporating the evidence from the inquest,” the firm adds. The court could award higher expenses to your former partner.

Bottom line: Not only is your former boyfriend benefiting from the equity he is accruing in your home, he is also benefiting from the price appreciation over the last seven years — and the next seven, unless you take swift, decisive action. 

Don’t ignore this situation. It won’t go away. The time to act is now.

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