Couple is breaking up, needs help!

So my friend’s fiancé broke up with her recently. They are living together in a house that has both names on the deed (and presumably the mortgage). What’s the best way to make sure that she is protected from losing any of her interest in the house, other than hiring a lawyer?

First thing I found was that she shouldn’t sign over a quitclaim deed until her name is off the mortgage (assuming he refinances instead of sells). Without a pre-agreement, I assume her stake is proportional to what she has been paying on the mortgage (minus their down payment), right?

Any other advice for the recently split for stuff like bills (phone, cable, utilities), etc?

Your advice is appreciated!

I think this is better suited for IMHO than GQ.

General Questions Moderator

I can’t help you, but this is a really good example of why you do NOT want to buy real estate with someone until you are married. I hope things work out for your friend; she needs to lawyer up.

“What’s the best way to make sure that she is protected from losing any of her interest in the house, other than hiring a lawyer?”

Now, if lawyers had to depend on my business, they’d all starve to death. But…they do have a purpose in limited times and places. Your friend is in such a time and place. Tell her to hire some mean, nasty S.O.B., NOT somebody she’d like to have over for drinks. Such a lawyer is not hard to find, and when you need a lawyer, that’s the kind you need.

She needs a lawyer, and not just to stop her ex from screwing her: even if they are both the nicest people in the world, the system is complex and if they don’t know what they are doing, they can end up screwing themselves to the benefit of no one.

Basically, she has her name on the mortgage and any equity and responsibility is theirs. Her responsibility towards the mortgage continues, regardless of Quit Claims, until the mortgage company gets paid in full. She benefits from any equity, unless court order deem otherwise and/or other legal agreements are made.

Let’s say Countrywide holds the mortgage and the both partners signed for the loan: Payments need to come in regularly. Countrywide doesn’t care if one person pays 99% and the other pays 1%. To them, it’s just a payment from the buyers. For example, if you buy a house with someone and you need money from both parties to meet the mortgage payments, but one person leaves, quits their job and says ‘take it’, the person left behind better figure out a way to pay the mortgage. Both are still responsible. Even if a Quit Claim happens…BOTH are STILL responsible – EQUALLY – to satisfy the mortgage.

If they don’t make payments (regardless of who ain’t holding up their end) and the house goes to foreclosure, both loan signers are screwed, owe the money not paid AND will see their credit reports equally affected (destroyed). Get used to renting for the next seven years.

If one party wants to ‘keep the house’, they need to refinance the home in their name. Once this happens, the other party is free of responsibility. If there is equity in the home, at refinance time the person leaving the home and not keeping it should receive their chunk of equity.


200k home (fair market value)

150k remains on mortgage

50k in equity as a result

If person A wants the property, they need to ‘buy’ the house for 200k. Both parties have 25k coming to them in equity. So person A, the buyer, gets a loan for 175k w/ 25k down. This allows person B to leave with their 25k, be free of the mortgage and the quit claim will mean they are done with the property.

If the house is just sold outright, the equity is just split.

It is a regrettable thing for sure, but in addition to the excellent advice already given, I have to echo John Carter of Mars, above. Bolding mine, for some truly sage advice that I will remember should the need ever arise.

As long as her name is on the deed, she has an ownership interest in the house. What matters here is how the deed is titled. For instance, if it is tenancy in common, the other owner can sell their interest without consulting your friend.

The friend definitely needs to consult with a real estate lawyer promptly, for the reason Manda JO said.

I would respectfully disagree here. Your friend certainly needs a good lawyer - one who’s smart, and a zealous advocate. But the idea that effective lawyers are, or are supposed to be, raging assholes is absolute nonsense. Good lawyers need a ruthless streak, to be sure - but they also need to be able to work well with you, opposing counsel, the court (if necessary), and so on. There certainly are guys who’re absolute jerks, but still effective lawyers - but if you’re considering hiring a lawyer, and your gut tells you “this is a bastard”, that’s a bad sign.

I agree completely with this. She needs a lawyer who will get this done quickly and efficiently. Being a SOB about it when it’s not needed can actually make it worse.

One option that is increasingly available is collaborative lawyering to resolve family law disputes. It’s summarised in this ABA Ethical Opinion [pdf]:

By agreeing to share information freely, the parties are in the best position to make decisions, on the principle that informed decision-making is usually better. Lawyers who practise in the area often are trained in interest-based mediation and negotiation, rather than the traditional position-based negotiations. And since the parties agree not to go to court, there is a strong incentive for the lawyers to settle the file, rather than drag it out.

The OP’s location is Illinois. If you google “collaborative law illinois” you get lots of hits.