Equity not necessarily split 50-50 in divorce
A reader writes: "My wife and I had owned our home for six years when she moved out. In the two years since then, I've paid all the costs — the mortgage..."
Seattle Times staff reporter
Q: My wife and I had owned our home for six years when she moved out. In the two years since then, I've paid all the costs — the mortgage, taxes, homeowners' association dues — which we'd shared when we lived together. In a divorce, will our home's equity be split 50-50?
A: It's a common misconception that Washington divorce courts divide assets down the middle, said attorney Richard K. Hart of the Seattle firm of Hart Schoener Bliss.
"The court is really only directed to make a just and equitable division of the parties' property," Hart said.
That means that all the financial facts will be on the table — the incomes of you and your wife, the other assets you two have together, the value you derived from living in your home for the past two years, etc. Then a judge or arbitrator will decide what's equitable.
The reason your wife left won't play a part in the distribution of assets, Hart said.
If you'd like to claim the appreciation your home has gained since your wife left, you need to know what it was worth when she moved out. An appraiser can tell you.
Finally, if you're sure your marriage is headed for divorce, Hart suggests you don't delay.
"Typically the longer things drag out, the more complicated it is to unwind" and divide a home's worth because "there may have been things like putting a new roof on in the meantime," he said.
"It does become a little tricky," Hart said.
Q: My condo was damaged due to a pipe leak between my unit and the unit above me. In repairing it, the condo's maintenance staff removed a section of the wall board. However, they didn't do a thorough repair, and now the area is molding, and they say they can't do anything about it. They also said they won't replace the wallboard until the entire building is replumbed several months from now. What are my rights as a homeowner to get this mess cleaned up ASAP?
A: If you were a tenant, state law would give you very specific rights to timely repairs. But there is no such law for condo owners, thus you have no rights outside what your own association's documents give you, said attorney Joseph Puckett, with Puckett & Redford in Seattle. So read them to see what they say.
Otherwise, here's what he suggests: Create a paper trail to your association.
In writing, say you want the mold situation remedied now. If the association isn't responsive, either remove the mold yourself — perhaps the easiest solution — or hire someone to do it. You could then present the association with the bill and a request to pay it. If the association refuses, the next stop is small-claims court — in essence suing your neighbors — with all the angst that entails.
"You'd want a good paper trail with the association, and photos of the area before and after," Puckett said. "You're then at the mercy of the court," Puckett said.
As for the association's delay in replacing the wallboard, Puckett said that sounds reasonable if the association is planning major plumbing work in the near future. He suggests you attend the next board meeting and also request minutes of recent meetings to make sure the repair really is in the works. If not, lean on the association, again in writing, to replace your wallboard.
Q: Our homeowners association is drawing up next year's budget. What's required to get it ratified?
A: Attorney Terry Leahy, of the Kirkland law firm Leahy.ps, recently addressed this in an e-mail to some homeowners' associations. Here are the basics:
State law requires ratification of the association's budget by the owners at a meeting called by the board. It can be the association's annual meeting but doesn't have to be. A quorum need not be physically present; owners can be counted present by proxy.
"A budget is ratified unless a majority of the association's total voting power votes against the budget at the ratification meeting," Leahy said.
If the vote fails, the most recent ratified budget remains in effect until a new budget is voted in.
For more on this, search online for Washington's homeowner association law: RCW 64.38.025.
Home Forum answers readers' real-estate questions. Send questions to Home Forum, Seattle Times, P.O. Box 1845, Seattle, WA 98111, or call 206-464-8510 to leave a question on a recorded line. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Sorry, no personal replies. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.
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