Why did my husband have to sign to sell my home?

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Q. I owned my own home in New Jersey in my name alone when I married my husband in 1998. When we were going to sell the house and move, I was asked where my husband was. The closing agent said even though the house was not in his name, he had to sign the paperwork. Why?
— Still married

A. Great question.

In New Jersey, assets acquired prior to marriage maintain their status as separate and exempt property incident to divorce, subject to certain exceptions, said Jeralyn Lawrence, a family law attorney with Lawrence Law in Watchung.

She said the most common exceptions include the increase in the value of premarital property due to contributions or efforts of a spouse during the marriage, and the commingling of separate property with marital property.

“In the context of a home, unless the spouse was subsequently added to any ownership documents – i.e. the deed – and assuming no exception applies, he/she has no interest in the premarital property and same is not subject to equitable distribution,” Lawrence said.

To the extent that the spouse’s signature was required to sell the premarital residence, it is possible the spouse was added to ownership documentation at some point during the course of the marriage, and therefore his or her signature was required to sell the property, she said.

“Additionally, there are times that, in an overabundance of caution, mortgage lenders and/or title companies, for example, will require a non-titled spouse to sign documents transferring ownership if that spouse lived in the residence so that he/she cannot later come back and claim that they had a right to occupy the property,” she said.

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This story was originally published on Sept. 3, 2019.

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