Dealing with Surprise Liens on a NJ Title Report

While there are many unknowns when it comes to real estate transactions, when those unknowns become unpleasant surprises, the sale of a property can slow to a halt. One common reason for a stalled or cancelled real estate transaction is surprise liens that the seller wasn’t aware of.

What is a property lien?

“Lien” is one of those terms that gets tossed around all the time in the real estate world, but oftentimes real estate professionals find that their clients don’t fully understand what a lien is.

A property lien, in simplest terms, is a notice that becomes attached to a property (in this case, the home that is listed for sale). The notice states that the current owner of the property (i.e. the seller) is indebted to a creditor.

The reason creditors file liens on real property is because they are of public record. This means that the creditor is more likely to be able to collect the money they are owed.

How does a lien affect the sale of a home?

One of the steps in any real estate transaction is a title search – usually performed by a title company or a real estate attorney. The property up for sale must come back with what is called “clear title” – meaning no liens were found.

If your title search shows a lien on your home that you weren’t expecting, don’t panic. Mystery liens do happen, and as such, most real estate purchase agreements give sellers 30 days to address property liens without significantly delaying the closing.

Do I need an attorney to clear up liens on my property?

While it is possible for some homeowners to reconcile their debt with the creditor in question, many people need to clear up any property liens quickly in order to allow the sale of their home to continue. NJ real estate attorneys who are well-versed in handling surprise property liens can quickly and completely eradicate your lien(s), making their services invaluable at such a time.

Not only will your real estate lawyer help you with any surprise liens, he will also provide legal review of all paperwork surrounding the sale of your home, including the sale contract itself. Working with an experienced real estate attorney in New Jersey will reduce the time it takes to clear up any surprise liens and will ultimately give sellers (and buyers) an optimal result.

Additionally, if your property liens were placed by the IRS because you failed to pay your taxes properly, working with an attorney is in your best interest because of the possibility of tax fraud charges.

What are my options to contest a lien?

In the rare occasion that a lien is found on your property and you feel confident that it was placed in error, it’s possible that the debt was in fact repaid but the lien was simply never removed. While this may sound like an easy problem to resolve, it actually presents sellers and their attorneys with a challenge. Your NJ attorney will have to locate the original lienholder in order to obtain official lien release documentation.

If you refuse to make good on a lien that exists on your property (that has not been paid off already), you will be found in breach of contract. It is rare that a buyer decides to handle paying of a seller’s lien(s), but it does happen if a buyer is very motivated to purchase your property. Upon your refusal to clear up any liens, your buyer is more likely to simply walk away from purchasing your home.

 

 

 

 

Understanding a NJ Home Inspection Report

For those who are looking to buy or sell a home, the home inspection is a crucial part of the process.Whether you are the buyer or the seller of a property, you must have a solid understanding of all of the details found in your New Jersey home inspection report. This report will ultimately determine the overall condition of the property in question, and will specifically itemize any problems, both large and small.

Typically, the home inspection is ordered by the home buyer after they have signed a purchase contract. It is important to work with a professional, licensed and well-respected home inspector to ensure that nothing substantial is missed.

While the seller is required to disclose any and all existing issues with the house, they can only disclose problems that they are aware of. The job of the home inspector is to dig beneath the surface to find problems that may not be visible to the untrained eye, such as damage to any area of the home including: the foundation, pipes and plumbing, HVAC system(s), electrical systems, roof, walls, attic, ceilings, floors, doors and windows.

After he has inspected your potential future home, your NJ home inspector will provide you with a detailed report. This report will explain any and all findings of the home inspection. Some home inspection reports can run upwards of 30 pages, which can be a little bit intimidating to the novice home buyer.

Understanding Your Home Inspection Report

Home inspection reports can also come in different formats. Some home inspection teams report with a checklist, while others use a summary along with a longer narrative portion explaining the summary in detail.

Typically, home inspection reports will include a table of contents for ease of navigating through each portion of the report. Professional home inspection teams will include an introductory portion that provides important industry definitions along with details about the report, including: date completed, home address, age of the home, weather conditions during the report, and people who were present during the inspection.

Following any introductory sections will be the meat of any home inspection report. This portion of the report should be divided into areas of the home or home components that the inspector evaluated. Here, notes will be made and details will be listed about the condition of each home area/component (roof, plumbing etc.) along with suggestions, recommendations and any applicable photos and or videos that the home inspection team acquired during their review of the home.

Is a Home Inspection Really Necessary?

It is extremely important that anyone looking to purchase a home invests in a home inspection during the contingency period of the home purchase. Any New Jersey real estate contract/purchase contract is conditional until the home inspection has been completed. This means that the contract is not official until after the home inspection and can be terminated if there are significant issues discovered by the home inspector.

Many times, minor issues can be negotiated between the buyer and the seller, allowing the sale to proceed. Aesthetic changes, such as fresh paint or minor kitchen repairs can be added to the contract as the seller’s responsibility. Before closing, the buyer will have a final walk-through of the home, at which time they can determine whether or not all of the requested repairs have been made as agreed to in the contract.

 

Image by Andy Piper – licensed under CC 2.0

What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Close

Now that you’ve invested extensive time and energy into the process of buying a home in NJ, it can feel a bit overwhelming to realize that you still have one hurdle to clear – the closing. Most people have at least a vague, general knowledge of the fact that you have to “close” on a property before it officially becomes yours. But what exactly does this mysterious “closing” entail?

The How (to prepare):

To ensure that your closing (or settlement, as it is often called) goes smoothly, it’s best to be fully prepared in advance. Because contract language can be confusing and lengthy, it is in your best interest to have an experienced New Jersey real estate attorney review all of your loan statements and the purchase contract during your three day attorney review period, which is required by law to begin within three business days of your official closing date.

Along with having your attorney carefully review all of your paperwork, you should be allowed to do a last walk-through of the home 24 hours before the closing. This walk-through has two main purposes: to ensure that everything is in the condition that the seller agreed to in the contract, and to make sure that the seller has fully and completely vacated the premises (unless it has been otherwise negotiated in the contract).

The Who:

State laws dictate who must be present at a real estate closing. In New Jersey, the buyer(s) must be present to sign all of the official paperwork and final loan documents. The buyer’s attorney can be present if there are any questions still left unanswered, but your NJ real estate attorney is not required to attend the closing. Your real estate agent and/or title company representative will typically handle all of the closing details.

Other people who may attend the closing include: the seller, the seller’s real estate agent and occasionally, a representative from your lending institution.

The Where:

New Jersey real estate closings most often take place at the buyer’s attorney’s office or at the buyer’s realtor’s office. The location is negotiable so that it is as accommodating as possible for everyone involved.

The What (to bring):

On the day of your closing, you’ll to bring proof of your identity, proof of your homeowners insurance policy, any home inspection reports and a copy of the contract that you have reviewed with your attorney. You’ll need this copy to verify that no changes have been made to the official contract that you will be signing.

This is also the time to fork over your down payment and closing costs. You cannot make these payments with a personal check, so be sure to verify with your closing agent beforehand what form of payment is preferred. It will likely be a cashier’s check or, in some cases, a wire transfer. If there are any smaller surprise fees that need to be paid at closing, you should be able to pay for those with a check.

The What (to expect):

Once you arrive at your closing or settlement meeting, you can expect to do a lot (and we mean A LOT) of signing your name on all of the closing documents and final loan paperwork.

The transaction will be recorded by a representative from the title company, who will then file the deed with the appropriate township/municipality.

Just as your hand starts to cramp uncontrollably from all of the signing you have to do, it will be over and you’ll be handed the keys to your new NJ home!

 

 

 

 

New Jersey Title Insurance: Do I Really Need it?

Purchasing real property in New Jersey (or in any state, for that matter), is definitely not a time to take short cuts. While most home buyers acknowledge this fact, some may still question the necessity of some of the steps along the journey to home ownership. The process of buying a home involves a pretty long checklist – if you’re doing things the right way.

One standard task that you need to accomplish before the closing date is purchasing title insurance. Buyers who aren’t familiar with title searches and title insurance may be caught off-guard when they discover another fee that they are responsible for in their quest to own a home. Important questions you may have include:

What is the purpose of a title search?
The person or persons listed on a property’s title are the rightful owners of the home. When the title insurance company (or your NJ real estate attorney) performs a title search on your intended home, they are looking for anything in the history of the property’s ownership that suggests there may be a problem in transferring the ownership of the home. This preliminary examination combs through records surrounding the previous ownership of the home, i.e: deeds, trusts, wills, divorce agreements, judgments, bankruptcies, tax records and liens. Any minor encumbrances (a lien that needs to be paid off, missing signatures) can usually be cleared up, allowing the sale to proceed.

Why do I need to buy title insurance if the title search was clear?
The reason title insurance is necessary is because it is virtually impossible for any initial title search, no matter how thorough, to foresee a claim to ownership that was filed incorrectly and/or is long-buried in a pile of dusty paperwork. Misspelled names, long-lost relatives, estate planning snafus and other problems can pop up at any time in the future – after you’ve already closed on the property and have moved in.

If a title problem arises after I’ve moved in, how will title insurance help me?
Your title insurance lender’s policy will act as a safety net if a buried problem turns out to present a real claim to the property even after you’ve closed on it. If a long-lost co-owner turns up and wants to enforce his claim of ownership, he can take the matter to court, however, even if he wins and is granted ownership of the home, your title insurance lender’s policy will pay your lender the balance on your mortgage. If you also purchase an owner’s policy, that will kick in to reimburse some or all of the money you already paid, such as a down payment and any initial mortgage payments.

How much does title insurance cost?
Purchasing title insurance is going to cost you a one-time fee of around $1,000, give or take, for the lender’s policy, and less than $100 for an owner’s policy. This is money well spent even if you never make use of the coverage. That may sound strange, but here’s why it’s true: on the very small off-chance that a missed claim surfaces and you are without title insurance, you could lose your home and a significant amount of money.

Virtually all lenders will require you to acquire title insurance before they agree to approve your mortgage. In addition, most NJ real estate attorneys won’t represent you if you attempt to refuse title insurance because of the inherent risks involved in your future as a property owner. Title insurance may seem unnecessary, but it is absolutely, without a doubt, a crucial piece of any New Jersey real estate transaction.

 

NJ Senate Bill 1593: A Proposed 6 Month Foreclosure Stay

Because the number of New Jersey foreclosures continues to rise even as we are now reaching the mid-point of 2017, the NJ Senate and Assembly have proposed new legislation with the goal of generating positive change for underwater New Jersey homeowners.

Senate Bill 1593 proposes that a six month stay of foreclosure proceedings shall be implemented in New Jersey if such action is agreeable to the homeowner and lender. The bill also proposes that the court can impose the six month stay if it has been determined that it would be possible for credit counseling and/or negotiations to occur during the six months that would potentially eliminate the need for a foreclosure.

Homeowners who are offered a reasonable and feasible mortgage loan modification by their lenders prior to beginning foreclosure proceedings will not be eligible for the six month stay. If an acceptable loan modification agreement is reached between the parties during the six months, the forbearance will be lifted and mortgage payments will resume. Additionally, if at any time during the six month forbearance, the homeowner moves out of the residence or advises their lender in writing that they have no intention of participating in the formal foreclosure mediation program (required during the six month stay), the stay will be lifted immediately and foreclosure proceedings will commence.

This legislation is an attempt by the Senate Committee along with the Urban Affairs Committee to drastically reduce the overall number of NJ foreclosures that continue to plague the Garden State a full decade after the Mortgage Crisis that began in 2007. While most states’ real estate markets have bounced back, several states are still struggling with high foreclosure rates.

In addition to NJ, the following states still have excessively high foreclosure numbers as of May 2017: Florida, Nevada, Oklahoma, Illinois, Maryland and Delaware. New Jersey tops the list with a foreclosure rate of one in every 515 residential housing units. Delaware, in second place, has a foreclosure rate of one in every 753 housing units. As you can see, New Jersey is the clear “winner” by a landslide.

In fact, the country’s two most foreclosure-stricken cities are also in New Jersey, with #1 being Atlantic City and #2 being Trenton. Jersey’s neighbor across the bridge, Philadelphia isn’t far behind, coming in at #5 even though Pennsylvania’s overall foreclosure rates are down.

New Jersey’s continued inability to pull out of what can now only be described as a foreclosure emergency has led to damaging effects like neighborhood blight, which greatly reduces property values. This, in turn, leads to more homeowners who are ‘underwater’ (owing more money on their mortgage than their home is actually worth), which then leads to more foreclosures. The cycle seems unending in NJ, and drastic measures are needed to put a stop to the deleterious effects on the state’s economy. We have high hopes that New Jersey will be able to come out ahead of foreclosure, and this bill is one giant step in the right direction.

 

Purchasing a New Jersey Home from a Bankrupt Seller

In today’s housing market, there are still a significant number of homeowners who are in danger of foreclosure. These homeowners usually owe more than their home is currently worth, so they are said to be “upside down” or “underwater.” If they are unable to refinance, and cannot keep up with their payments, they will be foreclosed upon, and are likely to declare bankruptcy at that point.

Should you pursue a short sale on a home that is awaiting foreclosure?

If you already own a home, are pre-approved financially, have plenty of available cash, and at least several months to spend devoted to the complicated process that is a short sale on a foreclosed home, only to have the seller declare bankruptcy and possibly even cancel the whole thing, then yes, a foreclosure might be the right gamble for you.

Beware, though, because as stated, it is highly likely that the seller will declare bankruptcy before the sale is completed, greatly reducing the likelihood that a short sale will close. Short sales rarely yield substantial profits for the seller, so the seller was likely pursuing a short sale in order to reduce the damage to their credit that would result from a foreclosure. However, if they’ve decided to go ahead and file for bankruptcy, the negative effect it will have on their credit is likely to overshadow any benefit from the short sale.

If they were to continue with the short sale despite having filed for bankruptcy, the seller could actually be negatively affected. Their filing for bankruptcy places their belongings, including their house, into a bankruptcy estate, so they don’t have the power to close a short sale easily. If the owner is determined to complete the short sale–normally against the recommendation of their bankruptcy attorney–they will need to pay said attorney an extra fee to pursue permission from the court.

If they obtain permission to close on the short sale, the owner will need to move out of the home much more quickly than if they were to wait out their bankruptcy proceedings. The only potential benefit to the owner comes from the peace of mind that may result from having avoided foreclosure.

With all these complications, it may seem like it’s not worth it to pursue short sales in foreclosure situations at all. However, there are a number of benefits that might be quite appealing: competitive pricing, smaller down payment and closing cost, and a shorter escrow period, to name a few major advantages.

So, if you are going to attempt to purchase a house that has been foreclosed upon, or a house that is in bankruptcy court, don’t go it alone. You will need the expertise and guidance of an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Your real estate agent will be happy to help you find advantageous listings, but consult with a bankruptcy attorney to have help navigating the complicated process to follow. A real estate agent is NOT an attorney, and can in no way fill that role.

Never skip inspections! They may be even more necessary in a short sale situation, but never less so. A 2011 survey conducted by Harris Interactive reported that 72 percent of U.S. homeowners agree the home inspection they had before they purchased their current home helped them avoid potential problems; 64 percent of respondents reported that their home inspection saved them money.

While it is a bit of a gamble to invest in an inspection when you don’t yet have signed contracts, it’s a much bigger gamble to sign papers on a home you haven’t had inspected. If a homeowner didn’t have the money to pay their mortgage, it’s unlikely that they’ve been able to keep up with regular maintenance. If you can’t arrange an inspection, and you don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on potential repairs, don’t close the deal on a property, no matter how enticing the price tag.

The takeaway: if you have the time and money to spend on a home that may never be yours, and you find a house that is listed at a price that might make it all well worth the hassle, then take your attorney with you–and buckle up for a wild ride!

Image: “Mortgage Rates” by Mark Moz – licensed under CC by 2.0

 

The Role of the New Jersey Real Estate Attorney

Upon contemplation of purchasing a home in New Jersey, you may be wondering if you should work with a real estate attorney as well as a real estate agent during the process. To some people this may seem redundant, but there are several very good reasons to consider hiring a NJ real estate lawyer.

In New Jersey, state law gives home buyers and sellers a three day “attorney review period.” This three day period begins when a real estate contract is signed. The contract is not considered legally binding until the three day attorney review period has ended.

Many home buyers ignore the attorney review period and ask, “What can my attorney do that my real estate broker can’t do?” The answers follow.

Review legal contracts

During the attorney review period, your NJ real estate attorney will read through the entirety of your real estate contract, looking for any red flags and addressing crucial elements that may be missing. Having your real estate attorney review your contract during the attorney review period will increase your chances of a successful closing without any glitches and without surprises several months from now. Real estate attorneys have been specifically trained in the area of real estate contract law, and they know precisely what to look for, whereas real estate brokers are generally most interested in closing the deal.

Because real estate agents frequently use generic forms that are “one size fits all,” many special circumstances may not be addressed in your purchase agreement. An attorney will notice when crucial details are missing from your sales agreement, and they can add contingencies where they are needed.

Perform a title search

New Jersey real estate attorneys will perform an action called a title search when property is being sold from one owner to another. A title search must be completed in order to determine if a property is free of any liens, judgments, or encumbrances. An attorney can perform a title search much faster and cheaper because of his networking connections and close relationships with title companies in the area.

Legal filings

Often, real estate deeds must be filed with the county and state government. This is more true when commercial property is involved. In these cases, your real estate lawyer will easily be able to assist you with obtaining your tax identification number, establishing your business entity, securing a business license and navigating all of the state regulations surrounding any construction that you may wish to have completed on your new commercial (or residential) property.

Some people choose to move forward with a home purchase without the assistance of a real estate attorney in New Jersey. While this is within your legal rights, it is well worth the extra money and relatively short investment of time to work closely with a lawyer near you who specializes in real estate contract law.

In doing so, you will protect yourself from any problems that may arise during the property transfer process. Some glitches that may occur include: improperly filed deeds, tax issues, undiscovered liens, home inspection challenges/property defects, missing or improperly filed documentation/permits, and failure to properly register commercial property. Your attorney can also attend the closing with you to ensure that everything goes as planned.

Will working with an attorney cost you more money than if you didn’t hire one while you were purchasing a new home or location for your business? YES.

However, the potential money a certified NJ real estate attorney can save you in the long run is indeterminate and can oftentimes be exponential when compared with your initial investment in retaining your attorney’s services. The smart move is to invest in a secure transaction by making sure that your real estate contract is legally binding, in your favor, without errors, and free of encumbrances.

 

Image: “Sherwood Country Club” by Sherwood CC – licensed under CC by 2.0

Can I Receive Hurricane Sandy Forbearance if I Filed for Bankruptcy?

Homeowners in New Jersey and all along the Atlantic coast will be hard-pressed to ever forget Hurricane Sandy – a deadly “superstorm” that hit the eastern seaboard in October of 2012. Assessed as the second-costliest hurricane to ever hit the United States, estimates of Sandy’s damage (in the US alone) are approximately $72 billion. The only hurricane in US history to cause more damage was Hurricane Katrina.

New York and New Jersey were the hardest hit states, with gale force winds that reached 90 mph and heavy rain (up to 12 inches in some locations) which led to flooding and significant structural damage of homes, businesses, beaches, boardwalks, roads, and more. Power outages were widespread and lasted for weeks in some places. For the first time since 1888, the New York Stock Exchange closed (on October 29 and 30) due to weather. Even Halloween was postponed in New Jersey, much to the chagrin of kids across the state.

As we hyper-focus on the damage done by Hurricane Sandy to New Jersey alone, we know that nearly 400,000 homes suffered damage from the storm, many were without power for an extended period of time, and 37 people died.

Relief efforts to clean up and rebuild the damaged areas of New Jersey were impressive, and some (but not enough) federal aid monies were approved for the state. Some of that federal aid was disbursed extremely slowly which means the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is still felt today, nearly five years after the storm.

Residents along the New Jersey shore sustained the most damage – both from flooding and high winds – to their homes and properties. The fact that five years has passed should mean that everyone in NJ has recovered from the storm; unfortunately that just isn’t the case. Although many people and organizations dedicated extraordinary man hours and donations toward the recovery effort, there are homeowners who still remain displaced and/or are facing foreclosure.

The good news is that Governor Christie recently signed a bill (S-2300, A-333) that will potentially offer some much needed help to those who are still struggling post-Sandy. The bill specifically grants Sandy victims with a mortgage forbearance period of up to three years. In order to receive the forbearance, homeowners must have been approved for help via the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program OR the Low-to-Moderate Income Program.

Affected NJ homeowners struggled for years trying to rebuild their homes after Sandy. Without enough funds to make their homes habitable again, a multitude of these residents had to rent alternative housing. Paying rent while still paying the mortgage on their now damaged property pushed many homeowners into bankruptcy.

Many homeowners filed for the protection offered by the Automatic Stay in the hopes that funding would be released before their bankruptcy case was finalized. Not realizing how long it would take for federal relief funds to be released, their bankruptcy cases ended long ago, and many of the homeowners chose not to reaffirm their mortgages.

Now that bill S-2300, A-333 has been signed, those who filed for bankruptcy and didn’t reaffirm their mortgages are wondering if they still qualify for forbearance. The good news is that a lender may not require that a mortgage be reaffirmed in order for the mortgage holder to receive forbearance.

Homeowners who’ve filed for bankruptcy without reaffirming their mortgages may have to provide their lender with a letter acknowledging that the mortgage debt was discharged in bankruptcy. This protects lenders/creditors from worrying that they’ll be sued when they try to collect on the debt again.

It’s very possible that lenders will not feel comfortable discussing the matter directly with the homeowner. They don’t want to seem as though they are breaking bankruptcy law by attempting to collect on a discharged debt. In this case, borrowers should work with a bankruptcy or foreclosure attorney in New Jersey to negotiate with their lender on their behalf.

 

Image: “Crooked House” by Don McCullough – licensed under CC by 2.0

Legal Help for NJ Veterans Facing Foreclosure

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As we honor those who served our country this Veteran’s Day, it’s important to know that there are thousands of homeless veterans in our country. Furthermore, there are over a million veterans who are in danger of facing foreclosure in the near future.

Why are so many veterans homeless?

This question is a good one, because many people in New Jersey and across the nation simply do not understand that so many veterans are struggling. The reason most homeless veterans lose their homes is due to a lack of affordable resources. Those veterans who are struggling financially need legal assistance to save their homes.

Sometimes, a veteran may face a seemingly smaller legal issue like the loss of a driver’s license. Studies show that veterans who lose their driver’s license end up with snowballing financial problems due to difficulty navigating the legal system in order to get their licenses restored. This leads to job loss due to the veteran not having a reliable way to get to work, which then in turn often leads to the loss of their home via foreclosure.

What assistance is available to struggling or homeless New Jersey veterans?

Across New Jersey, people are taking action to help homeless NJ vets. In South Jersey, a project entitled Operation Safehouse has volunteers building 60 cabin-like homes where veterans can live for up to two years while they are also given access to mental health assistance and work skill training so that they can eventually support themselves and move into their own permanent homes.

A similar program in Central Jersey, Community Hope, has been providing veterans with temporary housing for over a decade now, with an outreach program (Supportive Services for Veteran Families [SSVF]) in 15 NJ counties. Even though Community Hope helped over 750 veterans avoid homelessness last year and other programs like Operation Safehouse are popping up throughout the state, the number of  NJ veterans who are struggling continues to rise.

Veterans who fought the war on terror after 9/11 are feeling the effects of their time in combat and are dealing with severe PTSD that is preventing many of them from staying gainfully employed. Additionally, many post-9/11 vets living in New Jersey were so traumatized by their time on the front lines that they even struggle with keeping friendships and families together.

While the community organizations like Operation Safehouse and Community Hope are doing all that they can to support the emotional and physical needs of veterans, there is still a need for legal assistance that many NJ veterans simply can’t afford.

Are there any government programs or special considerations for veterans at risk?

If you are a veteran and you are at risk of losing your home to foreclosure, take the time to reach out to NJ foreclosure defense attorneys who are ready and willing to help you. Also, do your research on the special rules and exemptions you may qualify for as a US veteran.

You may be able to save your home from foreclosure if you’ve been able to maintain your employment but are still struggling with heavy debts that you simply can’t keep up with. In New Jersey, your VA benefits are exempt from the bankruptcy means test. This gives veterans a leg up when applying for bankruptcy in NJ.

In fact, in New Jersey, many disabled veterans are excused from even taking the means test. Filing for bankruptcy will push the pause button on your foreclosure, if you’re dealing with one, giving you time to formulate a plan that works for your current financial situation.

Image credit: S. AR University

 

Bankruptcy After Divorce: Can Property Settlements be Discharged?

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Couples who are going through a separation or divorce learn very quickly how expensive it is to split up a marriage. Firstly, the added costs of simply living in two different residences add up fast. In addition to separate living costs comes child support, alimony, equitable distribution, potential attorney fees (times 2), loss of part of your pension, and more.

In divorces where one spouse remains living in the marital home, they may be saddled with an order to pay their ex-spouse up to half of the equity in the home (if there is any). If this order comes as a surprise, paying it may be nigh on impossible, especially if it’s a substantial amount of money.

Some divorcing homeowners may wonder if they can discharge the home equity money they owe to their ex-spouse in a chapter 7 bankruptcy case. For example, if the party remaining in the home is ordered to pay $30,000 for equity in the home, would a chapter 7 bankruptcy erase that debt?

The answer to that question is no. Property settlements cannot be discharged in a chapter 7 bankruptcy, although any and all debts owed relating to the marriage (except for child support and alimony) must be listed in any bankruptcy filing. Any monies that you were ordered to pay to your ex for their portion of the equity in the home are not dischargeable in a NJ chapter 7 case. Filing for chapter 7 bankruptcy can help eliminate a number of other debts owed, excluding any debts owed as per the Property Settlement Agreement/Divorce Decree.

With that being said, there is another option for divorcing homeowners who are struggling financially and simply do not have the means to pay their ex-spouse’s  portion of the equity in the home.

In fact, filing for chapter 13 if you are struggling to stay financially afloat after a divorce can be a solution to a number of your money woes. As mentioned, shifting to a one-income household can be a challenging adjustment, especially if you make less money than your spouse does.

If you have fallen behind on any utility bills, property taxes, HOA fees or if you have rapidly rising credit card debt in NJ, chapter 13 will help you reorganize all of your debts, giving you as much as 5 years to get caught up. This includes mortgage debt – and filing for chapter 13 will protect your home from foreclosure.

Along with helping you reorganize your debts, the sum you’ve been ordered to pay your ex-spouse can be reduced or discharged entirely. The possibility of this is dependent upon your income and the combined total of all of your debts. The amount you’ll be required to pay toward divorce debts that are not support-related will be based on how much you can afford to pay. Beyond what you can afford within the given time frame of your chapter 13 repayment period, the rest of your non-support divorce debts will often be discharged, and you will no longer owe the remaining amount.

↓↓CRUCIAL INFORMATION BELOW↓↓

The experience of your bankruptcy attorney is of the utmost importance in a matter involving NJ bankruptcy after divorce. There are so many variables that will affect all aspects of your chapter 13 bankruptcy case. An inexperienced attorney can make expensive and disastrous mistakes. Look for a NJ bankruptcy lawyer who focuses their practice on helping people improve their financial future through debt relief and credit counseling.

Image credit: Fried Dough (flickr user)