Question: If there is only a judgment against me, but I am on title for a property with my ex-husband can he sell the property for only what is owed on the mortgage? The judgment is against me and not my ex-husband. I got the judgment while we were getting a divorce. He used his credit to purchase this house back in 2008 and put me on the title. There is a buyer that will pay what my ex-husband owes on the mortgage, which is all my ex wants. Do we have to pay the judgment against me in order for him to be able to sell this property since I'm on the title? There won’t be any money left over after paying the mortgage to pay the judgment.
Answer provided by: David K. Bifulco, Esq. from the law office of David Kennedy Bifulco P.C.
Prior to the closing the title company will run a judgment search on you and your ex-husband. The Judgment will likely appear on the record and the title company will want to have the judgment satisfied before they issue a title policy to the new owner.
There are a couple of statutory principles that apply to your situation:
First, in Pennsylvania a judgment becomes a lien on Real Property when it is recorded in the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the property is located. What this means is that if; the judgment creditor either A) obtained a judgment after filing the case in the Court of Common Pleas or B) after obtaining a judgment in one of the Magisterial District Courts the creditor had the judgment certified by the District Justice and then had the judgment docketed (recorded) by the Prothonotary in the Court of Common Pleas in the County where the property is located or C) if the judgment was obtained in either Philadelphia County or Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) Municipal Court which are special judicial districts. In these counties small claims are automatically of record unlike the other 65 Pennsylvania counties. Those other 65 counties require the extra step of recordation after a small claim judgment is obtained, before it will show up in a judgment search by a title company or appear on your credit report.
Second, in Pennsylvania there is an ownership status known as Tenants by the Entireties that applies specifically to persons who are married. While you were married the property (Owned as Tenants by the Entireties) was protected from execution on the judgment because the judgment was only in your name. The marriage in essence created a totally separate entity (The Entirety) which was not a party to the judgment and which protected all your jointly owned property from execution. Once you became divorced the Entirety ceased to exist and the property was no longer protected by Tenants by the Entireties status. The house is now in a simple Joint Tenants ownership status which means that you and your ex-husbands ownership interest in any jointly owned property can be executed on separately and sold to satisfy the Judgment.
Bottomline: Judgments against you and your husband whether obtained individually or jointly will need to be satisfied for clear title to be conveyed.
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More about this Montgomery Bar Association member-panelist (bio provided by this attorney prior to publication):
David Kennedy Bifulco, Esq. is a graduate of Temple University School of Law. He started in the receivables management industry as an investment banker providing access to capital for debt buyers. He has headed the debt purchasing and collection operations for U.S. Asset in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and PFS Associates in New York and Pennsylvania.
Over the past two decades David Kennedy Bifulco, Esq. has provided his services to the Resolution Trust Corporation, Department of Housing and Urban Development, American Arbitration Association, Pennsylvania Business Bank and NCO Group, Inc.
“I provide general legal services for consumers in the areas of debt settlement and defense for credit cards. I assist clients with loan modifications, foreclosures, landlord-tenant and consumer protection cases. I handle DUI cases, domestic relations matters like custody issues, support modification and enforcement and divorce."Submit your anonymous legal questions to AskARealLawyer@montgomerybar.org.