What if my Spouse is Not on the Deed, Who Gets the House in a New Jersey Divorce?
Explore the Different Options to Transfer Ownership of Marital Property in a NJ Divorce
The process of New Jersey divorce is full of high-stakes decisions. Because ownership of your marital assets, rights to future spousal support, and even custody of your children all come into play in a divorce, one needs the counsel and protection of an experienced family law attorney like those on our team at Bronzino Law Firm. One of the most important elements of a divorce is what will happen to the home you’ve been living in as a marital couple. According to New Jersey law, who gets the house depends on who holds the deed, and to what capacity. A deed is an official document detailing who has ownership rights of the house. The deed is signed by both the seller (called the grantor) and the buyer/s (called the grantee/s) and spells out the specifics of the home ownership rights of each new owner.
Possible Options for a House in Divorce in NJ
The way that a house is divided as a marital asset under New Jersey’s equitable distribution laws depends on what is on the deed. While a deed looks like a straight-forward document on its face, its language is purposefully direct in determining ownership. The grantee may be named as having the following:
Ownership as Single Person
A single owner is just that, the only person with rights to their house. A person who purchases a house while single has exclusive rights to the home even if they get married later, the spouse moves in, and the house becomes the marital home. In such a divorce, the house is not considered a marital asset and is thereby not subject to equitable distribution. One exception to this standard is the case in which the spouse puts considerable money or labor into the house, paying down the mortgage, funding renovations, or completing them themselves. The spouse may, in this case, have a claim to the financial support they placed into the house.
Ownership as Single Person “In Contemplation of Marriage”
If the deed states that the sole person listed as the grantee on the deed is a single person “in contemplation of marriage,” this means that the buyer is engaged or otherwise preparing for legal union. There is no clear-cut destination of the house in a divorce in this case; a skilled lawyer will have to argue your rights to the house if you were the single owner under this condition or the future spouse.
Ownership as Husband and Wife or as Married
When the grantee or grantees are listed as “married,” both spouses have rights to equitable distribution of the marital asset that is the house. This includes if only one spouse’s name is listed on the deed, for example in the case that they alone put down the down payment. Even still, according to New Jersey law, when the title of the grantee is “married,” two people have equal rights to the house in the case of divorce.
Ownership as Joint Tenants or Joint Tenants with a Right of Survivorship
Sometimes, a couple is not married, but they plan to live together in the house that one or both buys. They may have eventual plans to marry, or they may not. In such a case, they will co-sign as grantees under the title of “joint tenants” or “joint tenants with a right of sole survivorship.” Such a title applies to co-owners of a home who are not married. If these joint grantees get married and eventually divorced, the house will be considered a marital asset, and it will be subject to equitable distribution. If they split or one partner dies, the house will be divided based on the percentages of ownership of each of the grantees that was named in the deed as part of the declaration of joint tenantship. If the separation only occurs because one partner dies, rights to the house depend on whether “right of survivorship” was named. If no right of survivorship was named, the deceased person’s heirs will inherit their percentage ownership. If a right of survivorship was named, the living partner will assume total ownership of the house.
Rights if My Name is Not on the Deed
If you lived in your spouse’s house while you were married, contributing to the work, upkeep, and finances, it is only just that you should have a claim to some of the assets in the case of divorce, even if your name is not on the deed and your ex is listed as the individual owner. To ensure your fair share, you need aggressive representation by a solid family law attorney.
Determine Your Rights and Implications of the Deed on the House with Legal Counsel in New Jersey
Our attorneys have over a decade of experience working with hundreds of clients in Berkeley, Lavallette, Wall, Toms River, Little Egg Harbor, Manchester, Monmouth Beach, Holmdel, Colts Neck, and across Monmouth and Ocean County to claim their fair share of marital assets in a divorce. We conduct a thorough investigation of work and expenses our clients put into their household, real estate documents, and deeds to any properties, so that they are protected in a divorce by receiving an equitable share. If you have questions or need guidance on what happens to your home if your name or your spouse’s name is not on the house in the event of a divorce in New Jersey, contact us today at (732) 812-3102 for a free consultation.