The Moneyist: ‘Things are rocky between us’: My girlfriend and I sold our Florida home. Our $200,000 profit was wired to her account. She refuses to give me my fair share. What’s my next move?

Dear Quentin,

My long-time girlfriend and I moved to Florida three years ago. After renting a home for a year in an area we liked, we bought a home together. I was not working at the time, she was, so we agreed that it would make sense to not put me on the loan application, even though my credit score was higher than hers (however, we both have what would be considered “good” scores —  north of 725 and 800). I believe the mortgage-loan originator thought that was also the right way to go. We made an offer on a home, signed by both of us, and it was accepted.

She had proceeds from a sale of a prior home and she paid for many of the inspection costs herself.  We put 20% down for the purchase and took a mortgage for the rest. She did pay a larger portion of that 20% than I did. Both of our names were on the closing documents — those not specifically related to the mortgage — and both of our names were on the deed. 

I also bought the adjacent vacant lot with my own cash and put both of our names on that deed. That was a separate transaction with a different party than the home purchase.

We proceeded to both make half of the mortgage payment each month for the home we share. We also spent money on home improvements and upkeep: New countertops, appliances, flooring, paint, et cetera. I paid for some of the expenses, she paid for more. I did all of the home improvement work myself.

“‘You both paid bills and invested in upgrades, but you invested in a property that was jointly owned 50/50.’”

Be prepared to take legal action if/when it becomes clear that she does not wish to split the proceeds fairly. But you both spent money on the property, and if your ex wants to push you into litigation, it would be wise to inform her that she may well end up owing you the full 50% of the proceeds — that is, $100,000. You both paid bills and invested in upgrades, but you invested in a property that was jointly owned 50/50. If she is smart, she should settle with you now.

Another possible source of leverage: The other property that you purchased together. If you were to file a partition action to sell that property now, you would lose money and she would lose a potentially hefty profit, so it makes sense for you and she to remain on good terms — regardless of the status of your relationship — to ensure a bigger payday in the future. It would not be wise for her to pass on a profitable venture down the road for short-term gains today.

She has physical control of the $175,000, but she does not have the legal standing to keep it. Split the $200,000 minus the difference in your down payments and renovations. No doubt, however, it will be a harder negotiation given that she has possession of the funds. It’s tempting to imagine what she could do with $175,000, and she may be making all sorts of rationalizations as to why she should keep the lion’s share. A mediator should give her a deadline to transfer the agreed funds.

If she does not meet that deadline, lawyer up.

Learn how to shake up your financial routine at the Best New Ideas in Money Festival on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 in New York. Join Carrie Schwab, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation.

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Also read:

‘I have committed financial infidelity’: I racked up $50,000 in debt to help my troubled son — and have not told my husband. How do I get out of this mess?

‘He pays half of the bills in the house, despite six adults living there’: My son lives with his dad and stepmom. They take advantage of him. How can I get him out?

‘I’m stuck in a penny-pincher mindset’: My sp/ouse and I bought a home, but he only wants to buy high-end items. How can we agree?

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