Question: I left my husband, marriage and marital home two years ago. I received a letter from my husband’s attorney that he filed for divorce and wanted everything. However, I sought legal counsel before leaving my husband that informed me I was entitled to half the increased value in the home, which we had remodeled and now has a mortgage on. The mortgage is in my husband’s name. I sent a pro se response to his attorney and the courts, requesting $50,000 because the house is currently appraised at $250,000 and we bought it for $104,000).
My husband informed me that I’m also responsible for half the debt. Can he be forced to sell the house to pay off the debt if he wants to go that route? He has also signed a gas lease on the property since I left, but while still married to me. Shouldn’t I be able to have a claim to the lease since it was acquired during our marriage?
Family law is state specific and as I am not licensed in Pennsylvania I can only supply you with some general information. You stated you have consulted with an attorney in Pennsylvania, that is an excellent first step and I would suggest you speak with a domestic litigation attorney licensed in Pennsylvania before taking any further action. Cordell & Cordell has attorneys located in your state.
As far as marital property goes, it can be defined as any property, other than gifts or inheritances, that was acquired by either spouse during the marriage, unless an exception exists. This also applies to debt.
Regarding the home, yes, you are likely entitled to half the increased value, but it is just as likely you are liable for half the debt. Debt incurred during the marriage by either party is considered marital debt (even if it’s just in one party’s name) unless you can show that the funds were not used for a marital purpose. I am guessing the mortgage funds were used to remodel the home, so that would qualify as a marital purpose and put that debt into the marital column. Were you married when the home was bought? If so, you could be entitled to half the full value, not just the increase.
For the reasons stated above, you might have a claim to the gas lease, since it was acquired during the marriage.
As far as forcing him to sell the home, it would depend on the amount of the marital property split. Assuming he would owe you a lump sum to equalize the marital property split, if he could pay you off without having to sell the house then he could go that route. If not, then he might have to sell in order to fulfill the order.
A concern I have from your question is this. You state you sent a pro se response, but did you file an Answer to his Petition? An Answer is a denial to the claims made in your husband’s Petition, and could also include a Cross-Petition, which would allow you to ask affirmatively for your own relief from the court. A response will not be treated by the courts the same as a formal Answer and you could be forfeiting the right to Answer at all, since generally there is a 20 day clock that starts when you are served in which you can file the Answer. If that 20 day period (or whatever time limit there is in your jurisdiction) is up, you could attempt to file a Motion for Leave to File Out of Time.
You need to contact an attorney in Pennsylvania as soon as possible to make sure your rights are protected from a procedural standpoint.
Nancy R. Shannon, a Nebraska native, is an Associate Attorney in the Omaha, Nebraska office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. She is licensed in the state of Nebraska where her primary practice is exclusively in the area of domestic relations. Ms. Shannon received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Doane College and her Juris Doctor from University of Nebraska – Lincoln, where she was a finalist in a Moot court competition and active in Client Counseling activities.