Q: Please help. My father got the house and all three kids in a divorce settlement. My mom and dad were the original owners of the house.
Recently, my father and my stepmom signed the house over to my brother and his wife, for one dollar. My sister’s and my stuff was thrown out on the street and now we’re not even allowed to go to the house.
My sister and I never signed the papers. My brother’s wife said that my stepmom had to sign the deed under duress. My dad apparently got her intoxicated to make her sign the papers.
My father hasn’t paid off the house yet. In 1988, there was only $20,000 left on the mortgage. But my father refinanced the house and the new loan isn’t paid off. He used the money to do some work on the house and I don’t know what else he spent it on.
Please help. This is still my sister’s and my home, right?
A: The first thing you should know is that when parents own a home, the children do not have an automatic ownership right to the home. When a father and mother buy a home, they get to decide when to sell the home, whether to obtain financing for the home and whether to rehab the home or tear it down. The children do not have a say in those financial matters.
For you and your sister to have had an ownership interest in the home, you and your sister would have to have been place into the title of the home at some point in time. If you and your sister were never on title to the home, neither you nor your sister own any part of the home.
For some children who believe that their parents’ home is theirs, that would only be true if your parents die and you are named the owner in their will, or if the house is placed in a trust naming you as the beneficiary.
In your situation, it would seem that your father became the sole owner of the home when he divorced your mother.
Somewhere along the line, he remarried and put your step-mom into the title to the home. If that’s the chain of title for the property, then your father and his wife get to make all of the decisions about the property, including when to take out a mortgage, when to pay off that mortgage, and whether the house should be sold or given away.
It appears from your letter that they have chosen to give the property to your brother for the token price of one dollar. What happened to the mortgage? Perhaps your father and his wife no longer could afford to make the payments. Perhaps they figured that your brother would make the payments on their behalf and allow them to continue to live in the property. Or, perhaps they decided to move elsewhere and wanted to dump the house.
Here’s the key point: Unless your name was on the original deed, or is on the mortgage, you have no legal interest in the home and your father is free to sell or give the home away.
If you don’t understand why your father gave his house to your brother for a dollar, then you should ask him what’s going on. The fact that your clothes and furnishings were dumped out of the house makes me think that you have bigger problems going on inside your family than ownership of this property.
For whatever reason, your father has decided to give this asset to your brother, and it appears they have thrown you and your sister out in the process. It also appears that your brother has accepted this gift, and their treatment of you and your sister.
Although this doesn’t seem fair, unfair things happen all the time in families. All you can do is control your own behavior. You can never account for anyone else’s.
While you may not have a legal interest in the home, if you are a minor in your state and you had been living in the home with your father, your father may not have had the right to throw you and your belongings out and your father could get into trouble for his actions. If you are not a minor and your father was within his legal right to transfer title to the home to your brother, you’re probably out of luck.
For more details about any legal options you may have, please talk to a real estate attorney.