Q: My husband walked out on me and our children ten years ago. He never paid a dime in support and the last 10 years were a real struggle. I got a much better job, worked hard, paid off the rest of our mortgage, and did my best to put our two kids through college. I never filed for divorce because frankly I didn’t have the money and I didn’t know where he was.
Now that the real estate market is hot and the kids are out of high school, I decided I want to sell the house. The problem is his name is still on the deed. I reached out to his family to see if someone could get him to cooperate. Of course, now he has surfaced and is demanding that I give him half the equity. This just seems so wrong. Do I have any recourse? Can I get retroactive child support, alimony and college contributions?
A: It will take court intervention, but you do have an argument to be made. The court will not order retroactive support or college contributions, but you were clearly the only one contributing to the marital estate during those 10 years of separation. So, you can argue that the marital estate stopped accruing when he walked out the door 10 years ago and failed to contribute anything from that point forward. You need to find someone who can do a retroactive appraisal of your house and testify to the court as to the value 10 years ago. You also need to get the records of your outstanding mortgage balance 10 years ago to determine the equity.
Don’t stop there, you should also try to get bank account records, retirement statements and credit card bills so you can show the little he should be entitled to. Then try to tally up how much you spent to support your children and keep the household going during that time frame. The more you pile on the more sympathetic your case is.
You will need to file for divorce and ask the court to enter temporary orders allowing you to sell the house. the net sale proceeds will need to be held in escrow for now. Unfortunately, this will tie up your share of the equity as well which will make buying something new difficult. But, on these facts, you can argue that you should get an advance for a down-payment on some other home if you cannot find a suitable rental situation for the time being It just might be hard to argue that he shouldn’t also get an advance.
Of course, you can also weigh the cost of legal fees and value of your time and maybe he will settle for a much smaller share of the home equity to walk away so neither of you incurs legal fees. While I know you don’t want to pay anything — your time and energy have a value — you just have to decide what it is.
Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.