Ask Annie: 'I paid for everything. Divorce could cost me everything'

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The Independent Online

Q: I filed for divorce two years ago and it was finalised this time last year. I was the breadwinner during the time my ex-husband and I were married, and we bought a house together in 2001.

He had financial problems throughout our marriage and never had a steady income, as he was a self-employed builder. So I took care of all mortgage payments and household bills. Everything came out of my bank account – not a joint account. Because of his financial difficulties, I also had to borrow money from my family to make ends meet.

When we separated, he signed the house over to me and I took on the mortgage in my sole name. I didn't pay him anything because he had contributed nothing.

I also took on a £10,000 credit card debt he had run up just prior to our separating, as he was unable to pay it.

I am now horrified to learn that, since our divorce, he has filed for bankruptcy and the Official Receiver is investigating why the house was transferred to me on our divorce for "nil consideration". In order to provide all the information it wants, I will have to go through six years-plus of paperwork.

It has taken me all this time to get back on an even keel financially – and this only as a result of my mother giving me money. I have toiled for years to pay the mortgage, on my own, and only through my tenacity did I manage to hold on to the house.

It would now be the ultimate insult if his creditors felt that, despite his contributing nothing and me struggling to keep the property, they have rights over my home.

SG, London

A: I am afraid the news is not good. In bankruptcy cases, the law presumes that a house held in joint names is owned 50-50, unless there is specific documentation to the contrary. James Banks, director of the Royal Courts of Justice Advice Bureau, part of Citizens Advice, says: "You aren't legally obliged to provide the information that the Official Receiver is asking for, but if you don't, it will automatically be assumed that your ex-husband was entitled to half the value of the home on your separation, and that the transaction for nil consideration was a 'transaction under value'.

"The Receiver will then apply to have the transaction set aside and arrange for the house to be sold to realise your ex-husband's supposed 50 per cent share."

If you don't supply the information, this will certainly happen. If you do supply it, you might in some way be able to present a case that you contributed a greater share towards buying the house and should retain a greater share. But, generally speaking, the law is not on your side.

Unfortunately for you, the trustee in bankruptcy, the person appointed by the court to administer the financial affairs of the bankrupt, is legally obliged to recover as much as possible for the creditors. Mr Banks says they can be "vicious" in carrying out their duties. "They won't give two hoots that you have helped your husband with his debts. They will just want the money they can legally recover for the creditors."

It is not possible to judge the outcome here as every case is different, and I don't want to sound too gloomy. But you should not ignore the reality of what might happen and you should seek legal advice immediately to protect your interests. You need a lawyer who specialises both in family law and bankruptcy, as in this case the two interlock.

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