The other day I was talking to a prospective client on the telephone. Approximately 15 years ago he and his girlfriend decided to buy a home and live together. They both signed the loan papers and were equally responsible for the payments. About ten years ago they decided to end their relationship and the (now ex) girlfriend moved out of the home. The client continued to live in the home and (solely) pay the mortgage payments. Nothing was done to change the loan or ownership of the home.
Of course, now, after being away from the home for ten years the ex girlfriend not only wants her name off of the loan but also her share of any equity in the home. The ex girlfriend is prepared to filed a lawsuit to “partition” the home – in effect have the court, through certain statutory procedures, to either physically divide the home, sell the home and divide the equity or require one party to buy out the other. I am not a real estate attorney so I do not know all of the options when it comes to a partition lawsuit, but I suspect that the rules will leave the court with few options when it comes to addressing a home in this situation.
Not addressing ownership of certain assets, that are accumulated during a relationship, or a marriage, soon after the relationship ends can be a very big problem. The two main assets, that fit this category include retire benefits and homes. By not addressing the assets immediately the interest of each party can start to get “blurred” as one party continues to either pay the mortgage payment, on their own, or put money into the retirement asset. Which leads us into the title of this blog article – “Do It Now”. The longer one waits in addressing issues of ownership, or division of assets (and possible debts) after the conclusion of a relationship, the more complicated it can become.
I mentioned that the client was being “threatened” with a partition lawsuit, but it would be wise to explore all options that may be available. Obviously this would include some sort of settlement short of a lawsuit, but also a “committed intimate relationship” lawsuit (since the parties were not married). The main reason a committed intimate relationship lawsuit may be useful is the possibility that the court has more “equitable” powers regarding how the property accumulated during a relationship should be divided – this could be important in a situation where one party makes all of the payments, on, say a home, after a long separation.
This blog article is not intended to convey legal advice, but only address some of the general rules. Most legal issues, in family law cases, depend on the specific facts. Should you wish to discuss your particular situation with the Law Office of Thomas A. Chillquist, please call or email my office. I am a family law lawyer (divorce attorney) and I represent parties in family law, and divorce, matters in King and Pierce County, Washington, including Kent, Federal Way, Covington, Renton, SeaTac, Des Moines, Fife, Auburn, Seattle, Bellevue, Puyallup, Orting, Tacoma and Mercer Island. Copyright Thomas A. Chillquist