I am writing to you after reading your article titled, “I met my wife in 2019 and we married in 2020. I put her name on the deed of my $998,000 California home. Now I want a divorce. What can I do?” You have deemed this situation a “cautionary tale” for other readers who commingle finances too quickly with the wrong person.
I am happy to say that I am not in this situation as of yet. I am a 30-year-old female who has recently become a first-time homeowner with the help of my family. My home cost $558,000 in 2023.
I have been engaged to a 30-year-old male for the past six and a half years. We have been living together for the past five years. I am the only one working right now making about $83,000 a year. My fiancé is a graduate student working toward his master’s degree in a special-education teaching credential. He will be guaranteed full-time work after a year from his program as a special-education teacher.
“‘Only my name and my father’s name is on the deed of the house because he provided the down payment for this house.’”
Right now, my fiancé’s name is not on the deed of the house. We also keep separate bank accounts, and have no joint accounts. Only my name and my father’s name is on the deed of the house because he provided the down payment for this house.
My fiancé is in complete agreement that his name will not go on any loans or deeds until he financially contributes to the mortgage payments (I am paying the full mortgage each month). When that time comes, I think it is fair that his name should go on the loan as well as the deed.
I wanted to reach out to you for any advice you have to offer regarding my financial situation before we legally commingle our finances. We will not be married for at least another two years, and as we approach our wedding date (not yet set), we plan to do premarital counseling as well as draft prenuptial agreements to sign. If there is an option to do premarital financial counseling, I would be open to that as well.
Covering my Bases in California
If you bought a home in California where the average house price is more than $744,000, according to Zillow
you likely found a good deal. Your father’s help was — I suspect — not only pivotal in terms of providing a down payment, but also in co-signing and/or guaranteeing your loan. So he will be an important part of this conversation.
There’s a lot of positive signs about the future of your relationship in your letter. You’ve had a very long engagement, and you have been living together for five years, and you are supporting your fiancé while he is finishing his studies. It may be that you eventually decide to have a family together, and this home will be where you create all those memories that you will look back on in 30 years time. However, I also urge you to proceed slowly.
First of all, it would not currently make financial sense to add your future husband’s name to the deed. You certainly don’t want to refinance your mortgage when the 30-year fixed rate is approaching 8%, assuming your rate is far lower. You will end up paying hundreds of dollars more per month to live in your home. You can love each other, fight, compromise, make sure your voice is heard far more easily if you both have your financial independence.
As for putting his name on the deed and the mortgage, it’s not a good idea to add somebody’s name to the deed of a home and not to the mortgage. That makes very little sense. If you split up — which, although unthinkable, happens to roughly 40% of couples — you would be responsible for the mortgage, while your husband or ex-husband still owns 50% of your property. You cannot take somebody’s name off the deed of a home without their cooperation.
“You certainly don’t want to refinance your mortgage when the 30-year fixed rate is approaching 8%, assuming your rate is far lower.”
There are arguments in favor of putting your future spouse’s name on the deed of the house. If you were to predecease your future husband, the house would not then have to go through probate. It also means that if you or your spouse got into debt, creditors would be unable to make a claim on your jointly owned property. (You could also put your property in a trust.)
California is a community-property state, so all assets and earnings acquired during the marriage are generally considered community/marital property, and typically split 50/50 in the event of a divorce. Assets acquired before the marriage — in this case, your home — are considered separate property, although your husband may still be entitled to 50% of the acquired value during your marriage.
Engage in premarital financial counseling, and seek your own advice from a family-law attorney, and your father. It may be that you start by signing a prenuptial agreement stating that — in the event of a divorce — you split the house in accordance with the amount of money you each invested in the property, adjusting that sum for the increase in value from the time your future husband’s name is put on the deed. Don’t make any decisions under pressure.
You have taken your time with your engagement, and you can take your time with this. Good luck with your wedding — and I wish you a lifetime of happy memories with your marriage. Take it one step, vow and contract signing at a time. Parents rarely do anything by accident. So remember — given that your father’s name is on the deed — whatever you decide you will need his permission too.
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