Home & Real Estate: Gay couples need caution in joint home purchase

What happens, for example, if they later experience irreconcilable differences and decide to get a divorce? Many who have gone through that ordeal have found that as a same-sex couple it can be virtually impossible to get the court system to grant a divorce.

Lots of same-sex couples get married in states where it is legal. But later they move to another state like Georgia where gay marriage is not recognized.

If a couple in that situation decides to break up and the same-sex partners go to court to get a legal divorce they may find out that their state of residence has no legal process to grant a same-sex divorce. It is logical to assume that if a state does not recognize gay marriage then there are no laws on the books for dealing with gay divorce.

For couples who own property together that kind of legal dilemma only adds to the stress and complexity of their situation, both personally and financially.

States reciprocate and cooperate when it comes to heterosexual marriage and divorce because those marriages are recognized by the federal government. But that is not the case for gays and lesbians. Even if a judge wants to grant a gay couple the dissolution of marriage it may be impossible if the local laws say that same-sex marriage is illegal.

It is obvious that the legalization of same-sex marriage in some states without federally-protected rights for everyone in the nation is an incomplete solution. The current state of affairs has created many jurisdictions that are legal vacuums in terms of same-sex marriage and divorce. Go into court in one of those places and it is like walking into a legal no-man’s land.

To avoid any real estate problems related to the gay marriage issue, experts suggest following these three helpful tips:

Use a LGBT Realtor

Working with a broker or agent who is LGBT, or at least is gay-friendly and has lots of professional experience working with LGBT clients, will automatically solve many potential problems.

These Realtors understand the unique challenges to those who want to buy property together or take out a mortgage even though they are not legally married. If they encounter problems they don’t know how to solve they know whom to consult and they can recommend qualified experts such as attorneys and lenders accustomed to facilitating LGBT real estate transactions.

Communicate in writing

Cosigning for a loan or on a real estate contract is a serious financial step and it also legally binds both parties to certain agreements. To avoid any misunderstanding it is important to ask questions and never sign a contract without a keen understanding of what it means and what kinds of legal commitments it represents.

Having everything in writing also ensures clear communication between co-owners so that there are no unnecessary disputes in the unfortunate event of a divorce.

Hire the right legal expert

Gay couples are subjected to a different set of rules when it comes to significant legal issues like marriage. The federal government awards tax perks, for example, to married couples who file joint returns. But those who are LGBT and cannot be married are denied those benefits.

So it is important to hire a real estate attorney with lots of knowledge and experience in dealing with LGBT couples and their real estate and mortgage transactions. The lawyer can draw up special documents, for example, to help stipulate how the property is to be shared and what will happen in the event of a significant event such as a divorce or the death of one of the partners in the relationship.

Right now the issue of gay marriage is burning brightly in the political arena and the media spotlight. Many legal experts and LGBT activists — as well as zealous opponents of gay marriage — predict that this time the arguments and appeals will go all the way to the United States Supreme Court for a final verdict.

Hopefully equal rights will soon be bestowed upon all Americans, including those in the LGBT community. But in the meantime same-sex couples need to be aware of the unique situation they are in when it comes to home ownership. Then they can enjoy their fair share of the American Dream without any unexpected legal nightmares.


Jeff Hammerberg is founder and president of www.GayRealEstate.com.

Top photo: istock.com/JackF, house photo via stock.xchng