For most people, the American dream includes owning your own home. However, family changes can affect home ownership, and should be considered by present or prospective home owners. As part of this multi-part series, we will explore how changes in life, such as marriage, divorce, aging and death, can affect home ownership.
MARRIAGE AND HOME OWNERSHIP
In today’s society, couples are more likely to live together before marriage. Sometimes that involves purchasing a home together before marriage. Other times, one party owns a home prior to the marriage, and the new couple has to consider the home’s ownership after the wedding.
For the unmarried couple looking at home ownership, the greatest concern is what will happen to the home if the couple separates without marrying. After a marriage, ownership, liability and equity can be divided as part of a divorce process. There is no equivalent for the unmarried couple that purchases a home together. Often, one person leaves and the other person is shouldered with the responsibility of paying the mortgage, taxes, insurance and upkeep on the home, while the former partner remains an owner. Owning a home together prior to marriage is fraught with issues and should not be entered into lightly.
A different set of issues arises when one spouse owns a home prior to the marriage. Generally speaking, assets that a spouse brings into a marriage remains the separate property of that spouse. However, unless the home is paid for in full at the time of marriage, the couple typically uses marital funds (monies earned during the marriage) to pay the mortgage, which builds equity in the home. This creates a mixed asset, part the premarital separate asset of one spouse, and part a joint marital asset. Valuing each portion can be difficult. Valuation is further complicated if the parties sell the home and use the proceeds to purchase another home together, or if the owner adds the other spouse to the deed. Adding a spouse to a deed can be interpreted as a gift to the other spouse or a gift to the married unit, which can completely negate the first spouse’s claim of a separate, premarital asset.
If you own a home and are preparing for marriage, or if you are considering purchasing a home with a partner, you may want to discuss your circumstances with an attorney and ensure that you are protecting your investment. To schedule an appointment to speak with a Paulding County family law attorney, call 678-535-3232.