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The Moneyist: My husband and I live in his late father’s house. He threatens divorce — and says I’ll end up homeless

Dear Quentin,

I have been married to my husband for four years. Unfortunately, five months after our wedding, my father-in-law passed away. We were/are both living in his house. When my husband was a minor, my in-laws wrote up a trust naming him the beneficiary of this house if his parents both passed away. 

His mom passed in 2015, and prior to her passing they had both taken out a reverse mortgage. So my father-in-law was still able to remain in the home until he passed. Before I lost my job two years after we married, I was making regular direct deposits to my husband’s checking account to pay the mortgage, all of which are documented. 

Is the home considered community property in our marriage, or is this considered an inheritance for my husband? Can my husband add someone to the loan or put someone else’s name on the deed without my permission, or do I even have any legal rights to authorize such action?


‘Is the home considered community property in our marriage, or is this considered an inheritance for my husband?’

Does my husband have the right to sell the house to one of his children without involving me in the decision or without my authorization? Do I have any legal rights to half of the proceeds if we were to sell the house?  

My husband inherited a $430,000 mortgage and, 30 days after my father-in-law’s passing, the mortgage was due. My husband took out a mortgage to pay the bank so that we could remain in the home. My name is not on the home loan due to my credit, but my name is on the deed.

Divorce has been mentioned, and he threatens me, saying that it’s his house and I have no say in what happens after divorce and I should consider myself homeless and broke. He is quite the dream husband, right? I’m confused, worried, heartbroken and just anxious for answers. I want to be prepared for the worst.

Worried Wife

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

Dear Worried,

Are you sure your name is on the deed? 

From what you say, that sounds unlikely. If so, you legally own half the house. He is responsible for the loan. But don’t take his word for it. You need to get a copy of the deed, and consult a lawyer to go through the laws in your state. Your local city/county will have a registry of deeds.

If your husband inherited a home, it is separate property. If, however, he commingled that asset with marital funds, it’s community/marital property. By refinancing the loan on the house with marital funds, this house likely becomes community property. 

But that’s not a given. “If you are married and own a separate property home in California, maintaining your sole right to your house can get complicated, especially if you decide to refinance it,” according to the Law Office of Christina Sherman in San Rafael, Calif.

“That’s because the lender, before approving your mortgage, may consider both yours and your spouse’s incomes in determining whether or not to refinance your home. Unless you have a premarital agreement, earned income is community property,” Sherman writes.

Sherman adds: “If the lender looks at earned income to secure the loan, the proceeds of the loan are going to be conserved community property.” In other words, unless you have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, you hold the loan and obligation to repay it jointly.

Whether or not he is a dream husband is beside the point. You chose him, and you can choose a different life just as easily. Focus on your own goals: What kind of life do you want for yourself? It’s time to make plans to become financially and emotionally independent.

You’ve been married four years, and it seems like an unhealthy relationship — one that has had an unequal balance of power, given the fact that you were living in your father-in-law’s home. Empower yourself with knowledge, and decide on a plan of action.

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The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

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