Turner Padget Insights

A Bad Mistake, In Deed: Avoid this Common Divorce Pitfall

Posted On May 02, 2018

Divorces are obviously delicate and emotionally fraught situations, and most people getting one want nothing more than to turn the page quickly and move on with their life. But sometimes the wish for closure causes those involved to overlook key details, such as the steps necessary to make sure that property gets transferred as intended. A frustrating, time-consuming and costly experience awaits those who don’t nail things down at the time of the divorce.

Because many divorces involve some kind of real estate, it is important to remember several key concepts.

In Georgia, you can only transfer real property by deed or through specific, deed-like language in the divorce decree

All too frequently, people assume that their divorce decree or court order will automatically divide or dispose of the property. The reality, however, is different. Most often, the decree or order merely tells you what to, it does not do it for you. Typically, the spouse who is receiving the property takes the initiative to prepare and have their counterpart sign a quit claim deed and make sure it is recorded in the real estate records. This avoids the all-too-common situation in which a divorcee later on wants to sell his or her former marital residence but is prevented from doing so because the title still resides in their ex’s name. Alternatively (and less commonly), to transfer title by decree you must include very specific language in it that expressly transfers all right, title and interest in and to the property.          

Hire an attorney, preferably one who is well-versed in both family law and real estate law

Although you don’t legally need to hire a lawyer to handle your divorce, you would be very foolish not to. There are many cases where people representing themselves in a divorce fail to make sure that the property is specifically addressed in the divorce decree or order, that the correct names appear on the final order, and that all parties have in fact done what the decree requires them to do.

And terrible messes can result if the lawyer you do retain does not understand real estate law enough to prepare a legally sufficient deed (or equivalent language in the decree). If that happens, it’s an invalid transfer of property – as if nothing had been done at all. Imagine trying to sell or refinance your house 10 years after your divorce, only to find out that you are not the sole owner of the property; this could force you to rush to find an ex you may not have spoken to in years or know how to locate. It’s also possible they may no longer be alive.

Deal with everything you need to at the time of the divorce

To undo anything after the fact of the divorce is gut-wrenching and expensive. Keep in mind that your leverage is greatest – by far – during the divorce process; it’s much easier to get cooperation when your soon-to-be ex-spouse is eager to be done and to move on than later, when they might be years into another marriage and very difficult to track down.

Ultimately, the best advice is to put your trust and funds in someone who knows both sides – family law and real estate law – because they are both equally important to getting what you want and truly starting anew.

Jennifer Kerr is of counsel at Turner Padget, where she focuses on residential real estate, family law and probate matters. She has handled residential real estate matters for the past eight years. She may be reached at (706) 860-7595 or by email at jkerr@turnerpadget.com.