Hello, and thank you for visiting us!
Start first by obtaining a copy of the deed to the home from your
local (usually county) Register of Deeds or Clerk. A copy of a deed
can typically be obtained by anyone upon the payment of a small fee
after providing the office with the street address or legal
description of the property.
If the property is large or the description is complex, in many cases
it is more expedient to visit a title company and ask them to obtain a
copy of the deed and to also search for any encumbrances or defects
that may exist against or on the deed. Title companies in our area
charge less than $150 for this service and it is well worth it most of
The next document that you will want to look at is the Judgment of
Divorce (it may have another name, depending on which state you are
in) but, in any case, the document that your father would have
received from the court at the conclusion of his divorce which
incorporates the judge's orders.
One of those orders should address the ownership of the home; another
section of the order may address the signing of papers transferring
ownership to assets, providing that the parties must sign off on
transfers and if they don't the other party has a right to come to
court and ask for a "show cause" order to order the person to sign
under penalty of a civil contempt of court charge.
If the deed shows your father and his ex-wife as the record owners,
and if the Judgment of Divorce shows that your father was awarded the
home, then a motion to the court for a "show cause" is your best
remedy. For an explanation of a show cause, see:
If the Judgment of Divorce does not show that your father was awarded
the house, and the Judgment is silent on the issue, then *perhaps* the
divorce attorneys records will be available after these many many
years that might show some evidence of an agreement.
If the Judgment does not show that your father was awarded the house,
he may have a claim to complete title under a theory of "Adverse
Possession" (sometimes known as 'squatters rights') to be able to gain
complete and unfettered title. See, for example:
As to the mortgage, you may want to approach the lender, if they still
exist, and receive a copy of the payment history. If the mortgage has
been paid in full, the Register of Deeds will have a copy of the
Discharge of Mortgage. You should have any problem carrying the
presumption that your father made all of the payments post-divorce.
I would strongly suggest the engagement of an attorney to help you
out. You could substantially cut your costs by personally obtaining a
copy of the deed, payment history, discharge of mortgage, and judgment
of divorce. With those documents in hand a good divorce attorney or
property attorney should be able to make short work of having the
I might suggest that if you have the documents in hand, ask the
attorney for a consultation, show him/her what you have, and ask for a
fixed price to have the matter taken care of. This should be able to
be handled for less than $1500.
Again, thanks for asking the question. Good luck to you and your