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The Moneyist: I’ve been married to a serial cheater for 27 years. Does my estranged husband have a claim to my 4 properties?

Dear Quentin,

I’ve been married for 27 years now, and my husband and I have been estranged for the last six years. He is a serial cheater and has only held a job for six consecutive years. He’s done small gigs here and there, but mostly does construction as his side hustle. 

We live in Pennsylvania. During our marriage, I have purchased four properties. At no point has he contributed to the purchase price. Three of the properties are solely in my name and one has both our names on it. One of the properties was a fixer-upper and he did the work, and I gave him $900 per month for over a year.  


‘I’m a working-class individual so I don’t have resources to burn.’

When the repairs were finished, he claimed one of the two-bedroom apartments, and he rents his other room on Airbnb. I have a mortgage on the property that has two bedrooms, and he doesn’t contribute to the mortgage. I recently bought another property to live in, and I pay him market rate to do the repairs on the property.  

I have a federal pension, a portion of which he is entitled to married or divorced. I’m a working-class individual so I don’t have resources to burn. My question is, how much claim does he have to the properties if we divorce, and can I sell without his consent?

Confused Asset Builder

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Asset Builder,

There is good news, and there is bad news. Whether or not your husband’s name is on the deed of these properties, marital property consists of property acquired during your marriage. It does not include inheritance or assets acquired after the date of your separation. 

In an equitable-distribution state like Pennsylvania, marital assets are not divided 50/50 as they are in a community property state. A divorce court takes into account your financial contributions to the marriage, the length of your marriage and what you brought into the marriage, among other factors.

According to the law firm Spaden & Associates, “In Pennsylvania, a couple is separated when they begin to live ‘separate and apart.’ This means that the spouses no longer have sexual relations with one another, and they don’t hold themselves out to the world as a married couple. 

“Spouses don’t necessarily have to live in different households to be separated, but that type of separation may be a little more difficult to prove,” the firm adds. While living apart under the same roof is more difficult to prove, your six-year separation will prove beneficial.

Assets and earnings acquired before marriage are considered separate property, but there are additional complications here too. “For example, if one spouse owned an expensive piece of art before the marriage, the artwork itself belongs to that spouse,” Spaden & Associates says.

Based on your 27 years of marriage and your lifestyle, future plans and relationship with your estranged husband, you can decide whether it makes sense to file for divorce at this point in your life. In the meantime, if you haven’t made a will, this would be a good time to do that.

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The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

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