Q: I have owned my home for more than 20 years and now want to sell it. When I did a simple divorce from my husband a decade ago, he never deeded his half of the house back to me. I haven't seen or heard from him since we split up. How can I sell my house?
A: I see this problem often in my practice. I can't emphasize enough the importance of removing a soon-to-be ex before the divorce is final.
While it can be difficult to deal with at that time, it's much more of a hassle to deal with years later.
Your first step in clearing this up will be to see if you can find your ex. If not, check if he is deceased. If you can find him, you should negotiate with him to deed his portion of the property back you. If he had agreed to do this in the divorce papers, but just never did, you may be able to go back to the judge to make him, if necessary.
If it is not addressed in the divorce agreement, and you can't agree on a deal, you'll need to file a partition lawsuit, in which the court will come up with a fair split for the property. Because lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming, it's usually better to work things out.
If you can't find him, or found him deceased, you'll need to file a different type of lawsuit. Depending on the situation, you may be able to file a Quiet Title lawsuit to have him removed from the title, or you may have to find his heirs, go through a simplified probate for the property and then deal with them. Like I said, a hassle.
Each situation is different. The good news is, for every case that results in a quagmire, there usually are half a dozen that can be easily resolved.
If you own property with another person, you should have a co-ownership agreement in place to deal with disagreements, death and other contingencies. Life happens, and you need a way to deal with that.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at www.sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.