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My Husband and I have been separated for ten years, during which time I paid him an agreed amount of spousal support. From that, he paid the mortgage on our commonly-owned house.

We just sold that house, and he argues that since he paid the mortgage - including principal payments - for ten years, he should be reimbursed the total principal he paid off during that period, and that after that deduction, we could divide the rest of the profit from the house in half.

I pointed out that despite being half owner of this valuable asset, I received no return whatsoever for the years he lived in it alone. It would not be fair if now I did not also receive my half of the profit. It would be totally equivalent if he had moved out at separation, I paid him the agreed support (from which he could pay rent or whatever), and we paid the mortgage off from rental income. Or alternatively if he paid half the mortgage to me, and I paid that to the bank. In effect, his claim to the equity is an accident of the "pockets" we agreed the financial flows would pass through and would be an unfair basis of dividing the profit from the sale.

Is there a precedent for his claim? Who is right?

  • Thanks for this answer, which boils down to don't go to court but negotiate the number. Totally agree. The problem is that his starting number is so out there that I can't bring the conversation back to reason. I accept burden sharing that recognizes his contribution to the value of the asset, but object to a starting point where he takes the asset over. Plus, his claim (of equity paid) would vary so much depending on our separation early, in the middle, or at the end of the mortgage term. That strikes me as capricious and just leaves me vulnerable. Is this the only view out there? – JPaul May 26 '16 at 3:53
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You're both right.

Hire lawyers, present your arguments in court and one of you will be vindicated and both of you will be poorer.

Or ... forget about who is right and negotiate a deal you can both live with.

To my mind, his position is probably closer to realistic than yours.

First of all, forget about the fact that you paid support; that's irrelevant. Second, you have received a benefit - you have had a stable occupier of the premises who has met all of the outgoings and maximised its value. Third, try to think about what you would have thought was fair 10 years ago.

  • At that point you each owned 50% of the equity in the property.
  • If your ex had moved out then you would have sought a tenant who would pay (part) of the outgoings and you and your ex would each have paid 50% of the excess outgoings (or taken 50% of the profit).
  • So a reasonable deal would be that your ex stays as a tenant and pays market rent; 50% of which would be his and 50% yours.
  • You should be able to do a "back of the envelope" calculation of what he would have paid as a tenant versus what he did pay as an owner - this would need to include mortgage repayments, land taxes, utility costs normally paid by a landlord, maintenance costs (either paid directly or in kind) etc.
  • Armed with that you can look at what a "realistic" picture of the equity position is. If his offer is better than that, take it. If your calculation is better show it to him and offer a deal around there.

Above all ... stay out of court!

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