Dear Penny: Is My Estranged Husband Entitled to Profit From the Sale of My Home?

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Dear Penny,

Dear Penny,

My house is in my name and I'm selling. Do I need to share profit with my estranged husband? He walked out several years ago.

Thank you!

— Moving

Dear Moving,

In general, if you’re the sole owner of the property, you get to enjoy the sole claim to the proceeds from selling a house. A few things could complicate this, depending on your circumstances and where you live, so I recommend speaking with an attorney in your state to be clear about your situation.

Most likely, if you bought the property on your own, even if you were legally married at the time, he won’t have a legal claim to ownership.

Nine states are known as “community property” states, which means any assets or debt acquired together during a marriage are shared equally between spouses. Outside of those states, you can own assets in your name alone, and your spouse has no claim to them. Even if you live in a community property state, that rule only applies to assets acquired during the marriage, so anything you owned before is yours alone. A lawyer can help you determine whether he’d have a claim to property you purchased on your own after he’d left but you were still married.

If you bought this house with him — say, his name is on the mortgage, he contributed to a down payment, or he contributed to things like maintenance costs over the years — speak with an attorney about the laws in your state. They can help you determine whether any of his contributions could give him a legal claim.

If you’re wondering whether you owe him something from the sale regardless of your legal obligations, that’s a question only you can answer. Maybe he contributed financially to purchasing and maintaining the home, and you feel like he deserves some of the profit from equity he helped build. Maybe he contributed, but you feel like he got fair value out of living in the house and isn’t entitled to further profits. Maybe it was never his house, and you don’t have to consider him in this equation at all.

Dana Miranda is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® and author of YOU DON’T NEED A BUDGET. She writes Healthy Rich, a newsletter about how capitalism impacts the ways we think, teach and talk about money.

Dear Penny

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