Buying Property Without a Prenup

Dec 3, 2023 | Communication

In the world of real estate, the decision to purchase property is a huge milestone, often marking the beginning of a new chapter. While the excitement of buying a home is palpable, it’s important to think about the legal and financial implications, especially in the absence of a prenuptial agreement (prenup). It’s always a good idea to consider getting a prenup before getting married to avoid miscommunications and commingling in your marriage, especially when it comes to buying property. This article explores key considerations and strategies for those embarking on property purchases without the protection of a prenup.

 

Understand the Marital/Community Property

Before delving into buying property in a marriage, it’s essential to understand the legal framework governing marital/community property in your jurisdiction. All jurisdictions operate under either community property or equitable distribution systems, where assets acquired during the marriage are subject to certain rules in the absence of a prenup. 

In community property states, community property is presumptively all property acquired during the marriage. In a divorce, all community property is divided 50/50 with very few exceptions. There are only nine states that adhere to this legal framework (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin). On the other hand, the rest of the states utilize equitable distribution to divide up property. The distribution may be 50/50 but it could also be 30/70, 40/60, or any other combination, depending on the situation. The court uses a set of factors to make this determination, such as the health of the parties and the length of the marriage. 

So, with all of that said, it’s easy to understand how buying property during your marriage, without a prenup, can cause trouble. If you purchase property but don’t have a guideline for how you would want it split up in a divorce, the court will decide for you. Hence a prenup is helpful in this situation. 

But, if you’re already past that point and you do not have a prenup, we’ve laid out some tips for how to buy property during your marriage without a prenup. 

 

Open Communication

To no one’s surprise, our first tip is open communication. Of course, in a marriage, open communication is a must for… pretty much everything. However, it becomes especially important in the realm of buying property. Engage in honest and comprehensive discussions with your partner about financial goals, responsibilities, and expectations related to the property. Establishing clear lines of communication can help prevent misunderstandings down the road. For example, here are some topics you may want to cover as it pertains to discussions about buying property: 

  • Financial goals: discuss what your goals are with the property and how the property aligns with such goals. 
  • Budget: discuss the hard and soft limits of your idea of the budget for the property and for expenses after purchasing the property. 
  • Needs and wants for the property: just like they do on all of the HGTV shows, make a list of needs and wants. What do you absolutely need out of a property and what do you simply want? 
  • Financing the property: of course, you’ll want to discuss how the property will be paid for, think: down payment, mortgage, inspection costs, maintenance costs, repair costs, etc.
  • Ownership structure: determine whether the property will be jointly owned or if one partner will own it individually. (More on this in the next section). 

 

Consider Joint or Separate Ownership

Deciding whether a property will be jointly owned or held individually often hinges on personal preference and the associated legal and financial implications, particularly in the context of potential divorce.

When purchasing property while married, understanding how the state handles property acquired during the marriage is crucial. In many states, property obtained during the marriage is deemed joint property, subject to division in the event of a divorce, regardless of whether it is registered in one spouse’s name or both.

For instance, in California, a community property state, any property acquired during the marriage—whether titled in one spouse’s name or jointly—is typically considered community property. According to California law, absent any exceptions, such property would be subject to a 50/50 split in the event of a divorce.

This legal framework emphasizes the importance of considering both personal preferences and the legal landscape when making decisions about property ownership during a marriage. Couples should be aware of the implications of their choice, seeking legal advice if necessary, to ensure that their decision aligns with their individual goals and circumstances.

 

Document Financial Contributions

Without a prenup, meticulous documentation of financial contributions from spouses into a property is important, particularly when it comes to property division during a divorce. The rationale behind this diligence is rooted in the varying legal frameworks of different states.

In states where financial contributions play a role in property division, individuals going through a divorce may be required to demonstrate the extent of their contributions to a property or to other marital affairs. In those states, you may need to present clear records of who contributed to the down payment, made mortgage payments, and covered maintenance costs, etc.

For example, in some community property states, such as CA, there is something known as real estate reimbursement where a party can receive reimbursements for any separate property paid towards a purchase of community property. For example, if you wanted to buy a home together with your spouse during your marriage, but you used your separate property funds towards a down payment, you could potentially receive a reimbursement for those funds upon divorce. 

Regardless of what jurisdiction you are in, maintaining detailed records remains a prudent strategy. Even in states with a default 50/50 division, having a comprehensive record of financial contributions can serve as a valuable reference and may prove beneficial in resolving any disputes that may arise during the divorce process. Therefore, it is advisable for couples to keep meticulous records to safeguard their individual financial interests in the absence of a prenuptial agreement.

Consult Legal Professionals

When in doubt: ask an expert. With or without a prenup, seeking legal advice is prudent when purchasing the property. Financial advisors and attorneys can provide guidance on the specific laws in your jurisdiction, potential risks, and strategies to protect your interests when making this monumental purchase! 

 

Create a Postnup

While not a 1-1 substitute for a prenuptial agreement, a postnuptial agreement is one way you can make sure you protect property purchased during marriage. A postnuptial agreement or “postnup” is similar to a prenup but it is executed AFTER getting married (a prenup is executed before the marriage). A postnup can outline the rights and responsibilities of each spouse concerning the property you want to buy. This document can address issues such as ownership percentages, contribution records, and potential scenarios in the event of separation, divorce, and even death. 

 

Final Thoughts

Navigating property purchases without a prenuptial agreement requires careful consideration, communication, and strategic planning. By understanding what your state says about property purchased during a marriage, openly communicating with your partner, and implementing proactive measures, you can confidently get started on your property ownership journey. You can also consider getting a postnuptial agreement to make sure your property is divided according to your wishes. Remember, seeking professional legal advice is never a bad idea to ensure that your rights and interests are protected throughout the process.

You are writing your life story. Get on the same page with a prenup. For love that lasts a lifetime, preparation is key. Safeguard your shared tomorrows, starting today.
All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. HelloPrenup, Inc. (“HelloPrenup”) makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site. HelloPrenup will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. These terms and conditions of use are subject to change at any time and without notice. HelloPrenup provides a platform for contract related self-help. The information provided by HelloPrenup along with the content on our website related to legal matters (“Information”) is provided for your private use and does not constitute legal advice. We do not review any information you provide us for legal accuracy or sufficiency, draw legal conclusions, provide opinions about your selection of forms, or apply the law to the facts of your situation. If you need legal advice for a specific problem, you should consult with a licensed attorney. Neither HelloPrenup nor any information provided by Hello Prenup is a substitute for legal advice from a qualified attorney licensed to practice in an appropriate jurisdiction.

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