If I pay taxes on a property do I own it? This reader paid real estate taxes on a boyfriend’s home and wants to know if they have a claim to the property.

Q: I live with my boyfriend and have been with him for about 12 years. We have two children. He bought a house and he’s the only one on the deed. I’ve been paying the real estate taxes on the home since he stopped paying the taxes. I also pay the house bills. Do I have a claim to the property?

If I Pay Taxes on a Property Do I Own It?

A: We’ll deal with your question in two parts. On the one hand, if you live in a state that recognizes common law marriage and community property, you may have a case for your claim. If you qualify as a common law spouse, you may have marital rights in and to the marital home. You’d have to talk to a family lawyer to discuss this further. Some nine states are community property states, mostly western and southwestern states, along with Louisiana and Wisconsin.

If you don’t live in a community property state, you probably can’t claim an ownership interest in the home. Your boyfriend owns the home. You live in the home. The two of your are not considered married and as such have a situation that is quite common with couples that live together but are not married.

Let’s say you two rented an apartment and one of you paid more of the expenses than the other, or maybe all of the expenses. One perspective is that it’s your choice to live in that arrangement and that each party might pay whatever they want but neither person can force the other one to pay more. In this imaginary rental situation, one person could be on the lease but the other person pays most of the rent and other housing expenses. Unless the couple has an arrangement in which they have agreed to split everything equally, it might not be possible to force the person that didn’t pay their far share to ante up.

Was There an Agreement About Splitting Homeownership and Property Taxes When You Moved In?

Looking at your particular situation, your boyfriend may have paid most of the expenses for the purchase of the property, plus taxes, insurance and maintenance early on, while you didn’t pay anything (if you were even in the picture when the home was purchased). We doubt a court would force you to pay your share of all of the expenses for the time when you didn’t live in the home or even after you moved in. 

What was the intent of the owner (your boyfriend) and what was your intent when you moved in? It’s tricky. Without a partnership agreement or other document, it would be hard to go back in time and charge you for your share of what you might owe or his share of what he might owe.

You have two kids together, so the real issue is determining what’s going on with your relationship, determining how your finances should be handled for household expenses and for your kids and then deciding how you should own things.

Discussing Finances and Shared Expenses in a Relationship

We know it’s hard. You and your boyfriend have been together for a long time. In that time, have you ever had a heart-to-heart conversation about your finances and how to pay for things like your home and your kids? 

If not, you need to have that conversation. You then need to decide whether you should have joint ownership of the home or not. When you make that decision, you need to consider who is paying for what in the relationship, including payment for the home and for the kids, who does other non-paid work (such as cleaning and maintaining the home, mowing the lawn and other tasks that must get done, but also taking care of the kids and making sure they’re well-cased for). 

We think dealing with your relationship issues is where this conversation needs to start. Talk about who you’re paying for your life together and your kids. Once you decide whether you and your boyfriend are moving forward as a unit or are separating, you’ll know what kind of attorney you need and you can parse through all of these other issues.

Good luck.

More On Claiming Ownership and Property Taxes

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Claiming Home Ownership Through Adverse Possession: What You Need to Know

What Happens to a Quit Claim Deed When a Spouse Dies?

Unclaimed Property: How to Find an Assignment of Mortgage

What Happens to My Taxes When I Use a Quitclaim Deed to Transfer Property?

Quit Claim Deed Tax Implications: Selling House with Multiple Owners