Though it might seem like a weird and highly unromantic question, there are plenty of reasons to ponder this possibility. Basically, this means that although you two might live in the home together, only you would technically “take title” to the property—a fancy way to say that you own it and have your name on the deed. It’s legal—and more common than you might think.
“This is always an option,” says Zachary D. Schorr, a Los Angeles real estate attorney. “People are free to take title to property however they want.”
Plus, however it might look at first glance, keeping your spouse off the deed isn’t necessarily a vote of no confidence in the marriage. Particularly for couples entering second or late-in-life marriages, it can make a whole lot of sense. Here’s why you might consider this arrangement, including the pros and cons.
Benefits of buying a house without your spouse
Having only one name on a property’s deed can be a good move for several reasons.
You’re buying a house with premarriage money. If you buy a home using money you earned or inherited before the marriage, it can make sense to keep your spouse off the deed, title, and mortgage. That way, the property clearly is in your name and can be sold or mortgaged at your sole discretion. You own it. Case closed.
You might get a better deal from a lender. If you have a great credit score and a lot of assets, and your spouse has crummy credit and few assets, you might have an easier time getting a mortgage at a better rate if only your name is on the deed and loan, says Schorr.
It’s easier after you die. If the property is in your name alone, you can bequeath it to whomever you want in your will, including children from a previous marriage.
You want to keep the property from creditors. Let’s say your spouse has defaulted on student loans taken out before you two met. By keeping your partner’s name off the deed, creditors can’t go after property that is in your name only.
Your relationship could possibly head south. You might be in the happiest marriage of all time. (We hope you are!) But let’s face it—life happens, unions split, people die. In such cases, you can maintain more control over a property by having your name on the deed alone.
Downsides to buying a house without your spouse
Yet before you keep your spouse off the deed, you should know that there are some downsides to this arrangement as well that extend beyond any potential hurt feelings. Besides the “for richer and poorer” motivation, there are a few more good reasons to put your spouse on a deed even if you pay for the property.
To deal with your HOA/condo board: Some homeowners associations and condo managers will talk only with the person whose name is on the deed. This means that all communications must go through you, which can be a hassle if you’d like your spouse to occasionally speak on your behalf when contacting the HOA/condo board or attending meetings.
To build assets as a couple: If you plan on growing your financial future as a couple (by, say, buying more property or starting a business), it could be a good idea to own substantial assets together, which will make you both more creditworthy when looking for funding.
Why you might need a quitclaim deed
If you decide to keep your spouse’s name off a deed, you should know that you will likely need your spouse’s consent. Many lenders will require your partner to sign a quitclaim deed, a document that “disclaims” any interest in the property.
“This is a way for the lender to help protect themselves and the borrower from future title disputes,” Schorr says.
As such, you won’t be able to secretly buy a home behind your spouse’s back. Your spouse will be aware of this purchase, and will have to agree to remain on the financial sidelines.