Relocate to Wisconsin : Owning a House Without a Spouse....

Owning a House Without a Spouse....

  Time was....and sometimes still is....when couples proclaimed that  they "didn't need that piece of paper" (marriage license) to prove to the world that they were a couple. They could function as what society would call a "family" wedding ringswith a Mom..a Dad and wedding rings necessary to be the "tie that binds them".  How well we one gets married to get divorced..buys a house to lose it in foreclosure....Life changes, people change...and with changes can come, financial and in real estate.

Hind signt   When one member of the couple decides that the relationship is no longer viable...and the other does not agree....the jointly owned real estate often without the benefit of any legal agreement,  becomes a far bigger problem than it is in any divorce.

     Now there are no "rules" , no case precedent for who gets what...who gets to stay, who buys out who...both parties are just stuck. While we can all look back and say "Why would anyone do that ?" hindsight is 20/20  for everyone and being judgemental does not help ths situation.  Not everyone deals in the "same reality" and one may imagine that staying together at any cost and emotional is the best thing to do while the other wants to start a new life free of the relationship.  What about that jointly owned house ?  No one can requiJudgere either to buy vacate...and so the legal battle begins...which will take far longer than a divorce most probably and can be as if not more costly in legal fees.  The battle takes a fiinancial and emotional toll on everyone involved.

    If you or anyone you know is considering buying a house as a couple....and is not married, urge them to seek the advice of legal counsel before the purchase.   Life happens...and the relationship may not be the "happily ever after" once envisioned.  Whether thru disagreement, relocation....change can happen and it is best to take the steps in advance should changes in the living arrangement change.

     This has been a public service post brought to you courtesy of Sally K. & David L. Hanson, Broker Associates with Keller Williams Realty honored to be of service for all things real estate in southeastern Wisconsin.



Sally K. & David L. Hanson, ABR, CDPE, CSS, e-Pro,ILHM, REDS

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Comment balloon 50 commentsSally K. & David L. Hanson • January 16 2018 09:37AM


I have sold homes to couples who were not married and last year one of my clients sold her share to the other co owner as they broke up.

Posted by Gita Bantwal, REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel (RE/MAX Centre Realtors) 4 months ago

Good morning, Sally K. & David L. Hanson what a great topic for these changing times.... an attorney is needed for sure....

Posted by Barbara Todaro, "Franklin MA Homes" (RE/MAX Executive Realty ) 4 months ago

Morning Sally.

Death and taxes are the only things that are permanent.  Otherwise, everything else needs to be in writing..

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) 4 months ago

Good morning Sally. A definite legal struggle that can be costly. Prepare, to the extent one can, in advance! Enjoy your day!

Posted by Wayne Martin, Real Estate Broker (Wayne M Martin) 4 months ago

Good morning!

I agree, making sure two parties purchasing a home have consulted with an attorney and make a decision that will protect them "just in case" is a great idea.

By the way I love that your title rhymes!

Posted by Kat Palmiotti, The House Kat (Grand Lux Realty, 914-419-0270, 4 months ago

On our HOA board we are dealing with a couple divorced over 10 years, but jointly owning a house in the neighborhood.  The ex wife is continually being hit with legal notices to pay dues and fees ignored by the husband who still lives in the house.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) 4 months ago

Trust.... bringing up the what if the split .... is the reality of life. Plan for everything and realize the stakes are high in love and marriage, the baby carriage. Great points to give us all perspective Sally K. & David L. Hanson !

Posted by Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573, Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker (MOOERS REALTY) 4 months ago

Oh yes, seek out an attorney for this importnt purchase. Hey, you never know...

Posted by Lawrence "Larry" & Sheila Agranoff. Cell: 631-805-4400, Long Island Condo & Home Sale Specialists (The Top Team @ Charles Rutenberg Realty 255 Executive Dr, Plainview NY 11803) 4 months ago

Over the years I've worked with quite a few couples who purchased together but were not married. Interestingly, I've found fewer issues with them after the fact if they broke up than with married couples going through a divorce. Maybe that's because they discussed it all upfront when buying.

Posted by Nina Hollander, Your Charlotte/Ballantyne/Waxhaw/Fort Mill Realtor (RE/MAX Executive | Charlotte, NC) 4 months ago

Wise advice Sally and David.  I have run into this situation more than once in my relatively short real estate career. 

Posted by Gabe Sanders, Stuart Florida Real Estate (Real Estate of Florida specializing in Martin County Residential Homes, Condos and Land Sales) 4 months ago

Sally, about 7 years ago I had twin girls and one of the boyfriends all buy a townhome together.  I strongly urged them to seek legal advise.   They did not, and was only 8 months, and he wanted out.   It was a pretty good sized mess!  

Posted by Joan Cox, Denver Real Estate - Selling One Home at a Time (Metro Brokers - House to Home, Inc. - Denver Real Estate - 720-231-6373) 4 months ago

They have received many liens as this has gone on for a few years!  Liens also don't do any good if they are foreclosed on...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) 4 months ago

Thanks for sharing this great blog. :) 


Posted by Mega Team Real Estate, San Francisco and Peninsula Real Estate Concierge (Realty ONE Group Alliance) 4 months ago

Hi Sally K. & David L. Hanson .  Excellent points, Sally. Congrats on the Feature!

Posted by Carol Williams, "Customized Mentoring & Marketing Services" (U.S.: I specialize in helping agents who have been in the business 2 years or less create a thriving business.) 4 months ago

Very, very wise words!  

Posted by Gordon Crawford, Your Morris County Specialist! (Gordon Crawford Home Selling Team) 4 months ago

We have a huge trend here with singles buying alone, new couples and such buying. AND there is no doubt i often predict what will happen when they are no longer together. I have a guy who has bought 3 houses in 7 years. I even told him straight up given his past with relationships. The last one he put it in a trust, hope he learns but who knows Sally K. & David L. Hanson 

Posted by Scott Godzyk, One of Manchester NH's Leading Agents (Godzyk Real Estate Services) 4 months ago

Congratulations on your feature recognition. This is excellent advice to share with prospective home buyers.


Posted by Roy Kelley, Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs (Realty Group Referrals) 4 months ago

Thanks so much for sharing this post. It makes sense to get legal advice before any majot purchase or acquisiotion. As eager as a couple may be to buy that home, take a monent and do the smart thing. Talk to an attorney about all possibilities amd get an agent that understandas the situation. Thanks for sharing! 

Posted by Delphine Nguyen (Baird & Warner) 4 months ago

Sally K. & David L. Hanson 
So important! We deal with singles who share the costs - in one case - he qualified for the Mortgage because she was in Graduate School - but she put the 20% down on the house. If, G-d forbid, something happened to one of them, the last thing they would need is being forced to sell the house to satisfy the deceased's family's money claims. (Yes, they often do not have Wills either.) So ---

After Contract goes Pending but before Closing, our Closing Attorney prepares a letter - he calls it the "Russian Roulette" letter - detailing for each set of joint purchasers what happens with their jointly owned home. I DO NOT PARTICIPATE in the letter preparation but I insist they do one.

Great topic idea - Lynn

Posted by Lynn B. Friedman, Concierge Service for Our Atlanta Sellers & Buyers (Atlanta Homes ODAT Realty Call/Text 404-939-2727 Buckhead - Midtown - Westside -- and more ...) 4 months ago

Thank you. This is a great reminder. My stepdaughter did this. She bought a place with her fiancee and then they broke up. Needless to say I told her in advance about what I'd read. But she didn't listen!

Posted by Paul McFadden, Pest Control, Seattle, WA. (Paratex) 4 months ago

Good afternoon Sally and David - oh yes this is a real problem.  I am sure you have seen your share in your niche.

Posted by Grant Schneider, Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes (Performance Development Strategies) 4 months ago

Agree. When my late husband and I bought our first house, the question to attorney was, how to keep our assets in [his or my] possession and NOT subject to dispute by his X . . . LOL . . . that solution was easy (CPWRS).

For others, it's not particularly romantic to work these things out when things are good between you . . . but that's really the time to approach the subject. Call me practical!

Posted by Candice A. Donofrio, 928-201-4BHC (4242) call/text (Next Wave RE Investments LLC Bullhead City AZ Commercial RE Broker) 4 months ago

Good advice for those buying who are not married. 

Posted by Nick & Trudy Vandekar, 610-203-4543, Tredyffrin Easttown Realtors, Philly Main Line (Long & Foster Real Estate Inc 610-225-7400) 4 months ago

Really makes you think as this has been something that comes up time and time again.  Nothing wrong with reaching out for some extra advice if someone is thinking of doing this

Posted by Bob Jakowinicz, Michigan Real Estate Agent-- MI RE Adventures (National Realty Centers Livonia--Bob Jakowinicz) 4 months ago

Thank you for sharing, great points indeed. Each situation is different, always here to help the process go smoothly. And in most cases patience is needed to work through everything. 

Posted by Laura Filip, What can we do for you today? (RE/MAX UTOPIA , Serving all of Texoma ) 4 months ago

Congrats on your post placement Sally & David!  As Realtors we see these types of transactions.  I recall years ago when a repeat buyer I was working with early on couldn't afford the price range of house she wanted because she had cosigned for her fiancee's new truck with payments of almost $600 month.   It was less than a year after co-signing they broke up.  Fortunately, he continued to make his truck payments but that debt affected her house payment affordability until 4 years later.

Posted by Susan Hale, Re/Max Northwest Ohio Realtor (Re/Max Realty of Defiance,Inc.) 4 months ago

Good afternoon Sally K. & David L. Hanson ,

Congratulations on a well deserved featured post! A topic that must be discussed and legal opinion rendered. It may be all flowers, candy and sweet words but when the bloom falls by the wayside, the candies all devoured the sweet words might turn ugly.

Posted by Dorie Dillard, Serving Buyers & Sellers in NW Austin Real Estate (Coldwell Banker United Realtors® ~ 512.346.1799) 4 months ago

Hello Sally and David,  Great advice and so turn,  it does work out sometimes but your feature article makes lots of sense.


Posted by Will Hamm, "Where There's a Will, There's a Way!" (Hamm Homes) 4 months ago

Ohhhhh Sally.  Such wise and important advice you provide here.  Hopefully all that are in this situation will take it to heart ....


Posted by Gene Mundt, IL/WI Mortgage Originator - FHA/VA/Conv/Jumbo/Portfolio/Refi, 708.921.6331 - 40+ yrs experience (NMLS #216987, IL Lic. 031.0006220, WI Licensed. APMC NMLS #175656) 4 months ago

Good post Sally - also good advice for widows and widowers...........that circumstance too can be fraught with problems!

Posted by Susan Jacobsen, 20 Years Providing WOW Real Estate Service (The Alliance Group Realty) 4 months ago

We saw several members of a family buying together during the boom to be able to afford the home. At one point I was representing three families where one of the spouses was tired of it all, walked off leaving the other party to deal with house and kids. I'm seeing a number of couples where one buys the home, both expect them to live there together.  It's become moe common to see the wife/girlfriend who qualifies for the loan on her own. That's a change. 

Posted by Mary Jo Quay (Remax Results) 4 months ago

Some of our laws are archaic however they are still the law of the land and need to take precedent. We can't change the law just because trends change unless congress or the legislature makes it so. Your post was very thought-provoking for me Sally K. & David L. Hanson 

Posted by Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®,CRS,, Tacoma Washington Agent/Broker & Market Authority! (RE/MAX Professionals.) 4 months ago

Sally and David a divorce creates many challenges and a jointly owned house is among one of the big obstacles.

Posted by George Souto, Your Connecticut Mortgage Expert (George Souto NMLS #65149 FHA, CHFA, VA Mortgages) 4 months ago

One of my children was in the position of buying a home and living with a significant other. She decided not to buy as a couple, luckily. She was smart enough to buy in her name only. The relationship didn't work out, so it's a good thing it wasn't in both names.

Posted by Sharon Tara, New Hampshire Home Stager (Sharon Tara Transformations) 4 months ago

Great post Sally K. & David L. Hanson . I have been fortunate enough NOT to have been involved in a messy situation like this and I hope it stays that way.

Posted by Bob "RealMan" Timm, Bob Timm, Broker Associate, Alliance Real Estate (Alliance Real Estate - Minot) 4 months ago

Dear Sally & David,

Things are always easy, when the sun is shining, but when the storm clouds come, hold on to the tiller. Better to be prepared ahead of time.

Posted by Dörte Engel, ABC - Annapolis, Bowie, Crofton & rest of Maryland (RE/MAX Leading Edge) 4 months ago

You make an excellent point. Not taking the correct steps can lead to a whole mess of problems. Thanks for sharing. 

Posted by Corey Martin, Real Estate and Management Solutions (Martin Presence Group) 4 months ago

Excellent post with great advice for non-married couples considering buying a home together.  My daughter (and her now husband) bought a home before getting married but they already planned on getting married and the home was one they just felt they couldn’t pass up.

Posted by Terry McCarley, REALTOR, SRES, CDPE - Cape Coral, FL (REMAX Realty Team - Cape Coral FL) 4 months ago

In this brief window of time can't we all just get along? There is no $ in the grave

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) 4 months ago

Very good advice.  Seen a couple of situations where two people were on the loan when they broke up.  One situation had a partner refusing to sell and lived in the home while the other couldn't get a loan to buy anything else. 

The other situation had one partner living in the home who refused to sell, and refused to pay, when their partner moved out.  They both were on the deed went it went into foreclosure and neither could buy anything else.  They both still have a few years of financial recovery before they will be able to borrow money again.

Posted by Derrick Guevremont, Rochester MN Homes for Sale (Counselor Realty of Rochester) 4 months ago

Washington is also a common law state, so it adds to the legal ramifications of home-ownership. Your advice is so important - best to have a plan in place prior to trouble, because we know too well the emotional state of some people when trouble arrives. Cooperation often flies out the window. D 

Posted by Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD, REALTORS® in Clark County, WA (ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors) 4 months ago

Hi Sally K. & David L. Hanson - You shared a lot of great information here. It is good to know that there are real estate experts such as you to help clientele who can offer sound advice when they are in need. 

Posted by Sheri Sperry - MCNE®, (928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR® (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage) 4 months ago

Sally K. & David L. Hanson This is excellent advice.  Having heard it for years working as a court reporter and I also love Judge Judy ( she touts this same information) people not married who are considering a home purchase would be wise to seek legal counsel first.  Good for you!  

Btw, we missed you at lunch yesterday! 

Posted by Elyse Berman, PA, Boca Raton FL - (561) 716-7824 - CRS, ABR, GRI (Best Connections Realty, Inc.) 4 months ago

Awesome advice, Diane and I are sinners, but we have a Trust created by Attorneys:) Endre

Posted by Endre Barath, Jr., Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002 (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices) 4 months ago

Such wise advice, Sally and David. Seeking legal counsel makes so much sense. CA does not recognize common law marriage, as far as I know. Probabl a good chat with a CPA makes sense, too, to understand financial issues.

Posted by Jeff Dowler, CRS, The Southern California Relocation Dude - Carlsbad (Solutions Real Estate ) 4 months ago

Great post and it comes up often.  I often see couples that are not yet married, but only one of them is on the mortgage.  That is usually the easiest.  If they are planning to get married soon, it won't matter because the spouse would be in title to the property at that point anyway.  Great information.

Posted by Karen Feltman, Relocation Specialist (Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, IA Lepic-Kroeger REALTORS) 4 months ago

Divorce of a married couple has plenty of issues in and of itself. Professional assistance should be high on the list.

Qualified Real Estate agent. Professional CPA/Financial Adviser, Divorce Attorney.

When a couple is not legally married, they have even more concerns that require expert assistance.

Thanks for a great post.

Posted by John Wiley, Lee County, FL Real Estate GRI, SRES,GREEN,PSA (Right Move Real Estate Group- EXP Realty) 4 months ago

Good morning Sally K. & David L. Hanson,

I'm so glad that Gabe Sanders reblogged your post. In this day and age so many are going down this path and legal assistance in these uncharted waters is a must. I commented before but just was talking to a friend yesterday and her daughter is embroiled over a house she bought with a partner. Its a mess..they wouldn't seek legal advice before the purchase and now its a very difficult estrangement.

Posted by Dorie Dillard, Serving Buyers & Sellers in NW Austin Real Estate (Coldwell Banker United Realtors® ~ 512.346.1799) 4 months ago

Good morning again Sally and David. Wise words and great direction. I have owned property with a friend and always had a partnership agreement in place.

Posted by Sheila Anderson, The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133 (Referral Group Incorporated) 4 months ago

Great advice! Yes, life does change. No one anticipates failure of a relationship. Many do not plan for that eventuality because it would be seen as doubt on their part about the intention of their partner.

Posted by John Juarez, ePRO, SRES, GRI, PMN (The Medford Real Estate Team) 2 months ago