By Quentin Fottrell
I have been in my relationship for almost 20 years. For personal reasons, we are not married but we have a 10-year-old child.
When our child was born, we decided that I would be a stay-at-home parent because my low-paying job didn’t cover the costs of child care, and at the time, we were stretched. I have been an at-home caregiver and homemaker for a decade.
About two years ago, we finally saved enough to buy our first home. It’s a condo, but it’s ours. Since it was my first house purchase, I didn’t fully understand the process, so by the time my partner closed on the condo, I realized I was not on the deed.
When I asked why I was left out, my partner made some noises about loan applications, the cost, etc. My credit score is higher than his, so if I were part of the loan process for the mortgage, wouldn’t it have been beneficial to us?
In the two years since we’ve bought and moved into our place, we’ve had several tense “discussions” about adding me to the deed. For me, even though I’m not an earner, I am still a working member of this household, so having my name on the deed is about equality in the relationship and family.
Through my labor as a homemaker, which includes meal preparation, cleaning, laundry and home maintenance — not to mention 24/7 childcare — I feel my role as a “stakeholder” in this family should include legally owning my home. Am I wrong?
Through the various discussions we’ve had, it seems my partner is unwilling to add me to the deed. First, he got angry whenever I tried to discuss it, and tried to make it sound as if I was being completely unreasonable. But now he says it’s because it’ll cost several thousand dollars, and that in the end, it “really shouldn’t matter.”
But it does matter. To me, not being on the deed is a direct correlation to how I am devalued for my time and labor. I feel like I am considered “less than” simply because I am a woman, an at-home parent, and a homemaker. I am angry about my situation.
Adding to the complication, we JUST purchased an upstairs neighbor’s condo with the intention of renting it out. After all the fuss about being excluded, my partner made sure my name is on the deed for this second unit. But because of this, my partner says having my name on the original home is “unnecessary.”
I want to continue to fight for my name to be added — to fully own BOTH properties. But my partner is still making me sound completely unreasonable, to spend thousands of dollars just for a “piece of paper.” I know we can afford the costs, and I feel the cost is worth it so I can be on equal footing in this family. And legally, it is not just a piece of paper to me.
Am I really being unreasonable? Will the costs really outweigh the benefits? What can I do?
We live in New Jersey.
Not on the Deed
Dear Not on the Deed,
Common-law marriage is not recognized in New Jersey, so it’s up to unmarried couples to manage their joint assets the old-fashioned way. The father of your child has certainly done his best to do that, and has tipped the scales in his favor.
You are either a committed couple in a long-term relationship with a view to sharing your lives, or you’re not. Not putting you on the mortgage — assuming he did so given your good credit — or the deed of your home is sharp practice. At this point, you would likely need to finance to put you on the mortgage, and may need to inform the lender to do the latter.
Put bluntly, you’re not being unreasonable. There is a huge amount of physical, mental and emotional labor involved in being a stay-at-home parent and homemaker, and an equal amount of time devoted to raising your son and taking care of your home while your partner attends to his 9-to-5 job.
Being in a long-term unmarried relationship can affect everything from taxes to real estate. “Unmarried couples do not have the same rights as married couples when it comes to estate planning,” according to the New Jersey-based Bronzino Law Firm.
“They aren’t eligible to inherit a portion of their partner’s estate, for example; and they don’t receive tax breaks on property that they plan to leave their long-term partner after their death, the way that married couples do,” the law firm writes .
Your partner would have to file a grant or warranty deed with the county clerk. This could come with ramifications for insurance and should be done in consultation with a lawyer. It should, in theory, only cost a few hundred dollars.
I say “in theory” as that does not account for the closing costs and, of course, if there is a significantly higher interest rate now than when the loan was first signed.
“Deeds are characterized by ‘guarantees’ the grantor makes about their interest in the property, and ‘promises” of future action the grantor will take if their representations are challenged,” according to the law firm of Earl White.
“Covenants are the defining feature of each type of deed,” he writes . “Sellers often guarantee a property is sold free and clear of mortgages and liens, and that the seller has authority to make the sale.”
Some broader context: A few years ago, Oxfam released a study that estimated women contributed $10.8 trillion to the world’s economy every year in unpaid labor. That’s three times the size of the world’s technology industry.
The cost of you pursuing this does not outweigh the benefits. Your time is valuable. Your contribution to your partnership is valuable. Your sense of worth is valuable. And your role as a homemaker and a mother is also valuable.
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More from Quentin Fottrell :
• ‘I’ve felt like an outsider my whole life’: My father died without a will, leaving behind my stepmother and her 4 children. Do I have any rights to his estate? • ‘He was infatuated with her’: My brother had a drinking problem and took his own life. He left $6 million to his former girlfriend who used to buy him alcohol • ‘ She had a will, but it was null and void’: My friend and her sister are fighting over their mother’s life-insurance policy and bank account. Who should win out?