Dear Quentin,

I’m in a 15-year relationship and we have been married for five of those years. When my husband bought his house, his ex-wife did the paperwork. He was on the loan, but not the deed.

We are seeing an attorney next week to find out what has to be done to get her name off the deed to the house and into my husband’s name. She and I don’t care for each other at all. 

How do I protect myself? God forbid something happens to my husband. His ex-wife is a snake in the grass and there is no telling what he has signed without knowing what he did.

The Second Wife

Dear Second Wife,

Much will depend on what state your husband and his ex-wife lived in, and whether she/they purchased the home before or after their marriage. If they purchased it during their marriage, the home would likely have been considered community or marital property during their divorce. 

However, it’s concerning that so much time has passed and your husband has not taken actions to remedy this dilemma. Assuming they did not deal with this property in their divorce, he has taken a passive role in this real-estate transaction, and needs to consult an attorney today.

In New York, like many states, the divorce court will divide marital property, while separate property — purchased before their marriage — will remain the sole property of that purchaser. Given the alleged sleight of hand, it seems more likely that his ex-wife signed these documents prior to their marriage.

If your husband’s name is on the mortgage but not on the deed of the property and the house was bought prior to their marriage, he is technically a co-signer on the mortgage, but not a co-owner of the property. It’s a bad place to be in. Your husband — and everyone else — should always read documents before signing.

In New York, like many states, the divorce court will divide marital property, while separate property — purchased before their marriage — will remain the sole separate property of the purchaser.

I have received many letters from people in similar situations. This letter writer said her husband claimed that he was afraid she would divorce him if he put her name on the deed of the home he purchased before they were married (and they have been married for three decades). 

In another tale with a separate twist, this woman said her estranged husband was on the deed, but not on the mortgage, and she — surprise, surprise — has been the one paying the mortgage all these years. In her retelling, it seems like she was tricked into making that fateful decision. 

As I’ve said, your husband’s case has many unknowns that will determine the outcome, including whether the divorce decree even mentions this property. It’s a cautionary tale and, as you recount it, it’s difficult to believe your husband believed he had purchased a home without being on the title deed. 

Yocan email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

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