Know Before You Go to Sign: The Importance of Getting Legal Advice Before Signing an Agreement Relinquishing Your Right to a Marital Asset

In this blog, we’ve discussed in the past the importance of consulting a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer before you sign documents like prenuptial agreements, post-nuptial agreements, and marital settlement agreements, which can alter your ownership rights in various marital and/or non-marital assets. As a recent divorce case from Prince George’s County illustrates, even if you’re not signing a prenup or a settlement agreement, the need for experienced counsel exists any time you’re signing something that purports to alter your ownership rights in one or more assets.

The spouses in the Prince George’s County case, R.T. and B.J., married in 1988 and lived in a home in Clinton. 25 years later — in early February 2013 — the husband told the wife he desired to separate and to live in his own home. A few weeks later, the husband approached the wife about buying a residence in Cheltenham that would serve as his home.

The couple decided to execute three contracts, each of which was notarized. Together, the agreements reflected the wife’s intention to relinquish all her rights to the husband’s retirement account and that the husband would relinquish all ownership rights to the residence in Clinton. The husband was not represented by counsel when he signed the documents.

A week after signing these agreements, the husband closed on the property in Cheltenham. He did not, however, ever execute a Quitclaim Deed to relinquish his ownership interest in the house in Clinton.

Six years later, the husband filed for divorce. During the divorce litigation, the spouses disagreed as to the division of the two residences. The husband claimed that the relinquishment of his interest in the Clinton home was in exchange for the wife’s surrender of her ownership interest in the Cheltenham property. The wife said that the execution of that deed on the Clinton property was in exchange for the surrender of her interest in the husband’s retirement.

The Husband Was Responsible for Abiding by the ‘Extremely Clear’ Agreement

The court sided with the wife. The court concluded that the agreement the husband signed in 2013 was “extremely clear” and precise in its terms dictating that the husband surrender his ownership interest in the Clinton residence… regardless of the ultimate legal outcome regarding the Cheltenham residence. That the husband did not have an attorney and allegedly did not understand the meaning of a “Quitclaim Deed” did not relieve him of his obligation to perform as he promised in the agreement.

These spouses’ actions are a good reminder about the proper time to consult legal counsel. Sometimes, retaining counsel when you’ve decided to file your petition for dissolution isn’t the right time, as you should have taken action sooner. If you have decided to separate from your spouse, then you know your marriage may be headed for divorce. Before you sign any contracts altering or otherwise impacting your ownership rights of various marital or non-marital assets, you can benefit from legal advice. A knowledgeable attorney can tell you the impact of those documents you’re considering signing — both if you ultimately divorce or if you don’t.

Any time you’re promising to deed away your ownership interests in a piece of real property — or sign something agreeing to hand over any degree of ownership rights of any asset — is the right time to have legal counsel. When it comes to the division of marital assets, the skilled Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC are here to help. Before you sign anything, you should talk to one of our experienced legal professionals who can give you the knowledgeable advice you need. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.

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