It's what I wanted, right???
February 21, 2012 11:53 AM   Subscribe

I think my ex-partner just walked out on our mortgage. Please help me navigate this new world!

I searched through old questions but I didn't find anything that quite matched up to my situation. Most of those were written from the viewpoint of the person wanting to walk away.

I currently own a home with my ex, we're both on the mortgage. After our breakup, we put the house on the market and attempted to sell it. The market being how it was, it didn't sell. Later that year, I attempted to "buy" the home on my own. I was approved and we made it all the way to the appraisal process where everything fell apart. The house didn't appraise for enough so I bagged the idea for the time. Things went on business as usual, we both lived in the house and just left each other alone.

We have been splitting the mortgage evenly, no problems there. My ex approached me a few months ago regarding putting the house on the market again. We exchanged a few messages about it, but nothing ever came of it.

Then lo and behold I came home from work on Friday to discover that my ex had moved out. As of right now, I haven't received any communication from my ex regarding their plans or intentions. I haven't attempted to contact my ex at this time.

Now, I still want the house. I have been in contact with my mortgage broker and he assures me that I am qualified for the HARP program. My ultimate goal will be to refinance and get my ex off the deed/mortgage. I don't know if it matters, but we are not/were never married.

Therefore my questions are these:

1. If my ex has decided to walk away completely, what are the consequences? Is there an amount of time after which my ex will have "forfeited" any rights to the home? My ex made it very clear from the very beginning that they didn't want the home. Is there any way to avoid "buying them out"?

2. Any other details you think I should know? I want this house, but I don't want to get wiped out financially in the process. I am prepared to cover the mortgage on my own for a few months if I have to, but that couldn't go on for long. I do have a current partner that helps substantially with all household expenses. My hope is that the refi will help by dropping the payment several hundred dollars.

*Disclaimer* The ex can be very difficult to work with. Even when we were trying to sell our house to strangers, they made it problematic by failing to communicate in a timely manner. Also, they failed to show a basic understanding of the real estate market and how the process works. When I was attempting to buy the house myself, they drug out the process painfully by making silly demands. (demanding to be reimbursed for improvements we made to the home together, for example) They would only back down when confronted by our Realtor who was helping us through the process as a favor! I know I'll have to contact my ex eventually, but I need to feel better prepared first.

I know you are not my lawyer, talk to me like you're my friend!
I'm in Utah/Salt Lake County.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Change the locks.
posted by goethean at 12:01 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I were your friend, the only thing I would really tell you is that you need, need, NEED a lawyer. These are legal questions, and a house being on the line means you really can't afford to muck about with guesses.
posted by gracedissolved at 12:04 PM on February 21, 2012 [14 favorites]

Change the locks.

If both of you own the home, that's a sure-fire way to get sued by someone already being difficult to work with.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:36 PM on February 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

Really? Even if they moved all their stuff out and stopped paying their half of the mortgage payments?
posted by Grither at 12:38 PM on February 21, 2012

Even if they moved all their stuff out and stopped paying their half of the mortgage payments?

It's not clear that the ex has, in fact, stopped paying the mortgage payments. Ex moved out "last Friday"--it's not clear when the next mortgage payment is due.
posted by yoink at 12:46 PM on February 21, 2012

Yes, IANYL. Having said that:

1. Is your "ex" a spouse? If so, you need a lawyer, if at all possible, for the dissolution, in which the house will be divided along with any other assets and debts. (And it is certainly feasible to negotiate that the house is awarded to you.) If you truly can't afford a lawyer, at least try for some bona fide legal advice on negotiating the dissolution via a pro bono family law clinic through the local bar and/or family law facilitator in your local court.

2. If your "ex" is someone with whom you had a long relationship but no marriage and shared responsibility for property and debt, this may be a so called "meretricious relationship" which would also be most appropriately handled via a court action that divided property and debt. If so, same strong recommendation as in 1. for a lawyer and failing that, legal advice via sources noted above.

3. If your relationship is neither of the above, acquiring a house is still a legal transaction that needs to be done right. lAlthough it may not be that expensive if there is no equity in the house. Again, I'd get some legal advice, preferably via a lawyer and if not via advice from a pro bono clinic. Meanwhile, yes, change the locks. And keep the mortgage current. The mortgage company doesn't care that one of you isn't paying -- they will foreclose if it falls into default. And you'll need to arrange a new mortgage with you alone as borrower for the remaining debt owed on the home.
posted by bearwife at 12:51 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Really? Even if they moved all their stuff out and stopped paying their half of the mortgage payments?

There's a good, thick chunk of bureaucracy between "stopped paying mortgage" -- the moved-out part is irrelevant, AFAIK; you don't need to reside in the property to own it -- and "no longer considered legal owner." Until you've got official, written confirmation that this is your house, don't even attempt to keep the ex out.
posted by griphus at 12:51 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the eyes of the bank, there is really no way that your ex can forfeit his "rights" to the house, financial-ties-wise. As long as he's on the mortgage, he's going to haunt you. Depending on the rules of your jurisdiction, you could ask him to sign a quit claim deed in order to remove his LEGAL rights from the property, which would definitely help you in the case of you wanting to change the locks.

Definitely get a real estate lawyer to handle the refinance and make sure it all goes according to plan and there are no residual snags (like the bank messing up title work and that ex continuing to haunt you).
posted by scarykarrey at 12:53 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

My situation was not identical to yours but I did have an uncooperative ex, a house, and a mortgage. The money I spent on a lawyer was some of the best I have ever spent. I cannot imagine what would have happened without one, but it would have been bad. I
posted by pointystick at 1:06 PM on February 21, 2012

Yeah, your situation is complicated: joint ownership but no marriage. House underwater. Refinancing. No equity in the house. I'm afraid you need a lawyer. And you need to make some attempt to contact your Ex. But, it might be best to get a lawyer and ask them your question which is, essentially: I'm refinancing my home, my partnership with the other owner has dissolved. What do I need to do to get this home in my name?
posted by amanda at 3:06 PM on February 21, 2012

Any other details you think I should know? I want this house, but I don't want to get wiped out financially in the process. I am prepared to cover the mortgage on my own for a few months if I have to, but that couldn't go on for long.

If you were my friend and you told me this, I'd point you to the reams of articles that have been written about the top financial mistakes women tend to make during divorce, with holding onto the house that they can't quite afford right at the top of most of those lists. (I know you're not actually married, but the break-up of a long-term relationship where you owned property together is not so different.)

In addition to "get a lawyer," I think you'd find that spending $100 on a fee-only financial planner to go over your budget and the cost of this house and whether it makes sense to actually hold onto it would be money well-spent. If you can't afford the mortgage, this really might be the time to bite the bullet and get out from underneath the too-expensive house.
posted by iminurmefi at 3:56 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree with iminurmefi in principle, but the OP is trying to work a refi. I just finished refinancing our house and shaved almost $400/mo off the mortgage payment. Which took it from "yeah, I can afford this on my own if I watch every penny" to giving me a fair bit of breathing room.

So, since "that couldn't go on for long", probably a bad idea to try to keep it if you can't get the refi, but if we're talking about a serious drop in the mortgage payment after the refi goes through, that's another story.

Definitely lawyer up though. Real estate transactions are complicated enough, without the special circumstances you face. And if your lawyer says "you really shouldn't be trying to keep this house," please strongly consider that advice. I know how easy it is to get emotionally attached to a house that feels like home... but it also has to be a financially sustainable decision, too. Good luck!
posted by xedrik at 4:22 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

They walked out of the house, which isn't the same as the mortgage. You don't know your ex's intentions, so all of this is speculation at this point.

Moving out does not get them out of having to pay, however. You need to talk to a lawyer, but also your ex.
posted by spaltavian at 6:51 PM on February 21, 2012

You need a lawyer, like, right now.

Did you sign any contract or agreement with the ex beforehand regarding what would happen in case of a breakup, or in case someone couldn't pay the mortgage? I know some people do so when buying property with people they aren't married to. If so, be sure to show this to your lawyer.
posted by vivid postcard at 6:52 PM on February 21, 2012


Do nothing until you get a lawyer and I mean NOTHING. Tomorrow you take off work and you get a lawyer. Do it now!
posted by whoaali at 6:53 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

You need a lawyer. Please do not take any other advice in this thread other than that. (Seriously people, "change the locks?" Yes, let's take the law into our own hands, that will definitely end well.)
posted by Happydaz at 9:07 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

this situation happened to a good friend of mine recently (though his husband moved out and then moved back in again, so the problem was moot before that month's mortgage was even due). i told him what i tell you: get a real estate attorney. i AM a lawyer, but i'm not in real estate. i'd lawyer up if i were you.
posted by anthropomorphic at 8:29 PM on February 23, 2012

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