Quality, Responsive and Trustworthy Legal Services
We offer clients a strong work ethic combined with prompt and personalized client care.

Free-Trader Agreements in North Carolina

When a married couple separates, if they can reach an agreement on all of the issues between them, they may choose to sign a separation agreement. It is a contract that says how they have agreed to divide property and debt, how family support will be provided, if any, and what they will do about parenting time if they have children together. One of the usual terms contained in it is a free-trader-agreement (FTA). If there is no separation agreement, an FTA can be a short contract by itself.

What’s the Problem?

Many couples own real estate when they separate. After time passes but before the divorce is granted, some people consider home ownership. When married couples acquire a mortgage loan, both usually sign the promissory note, which means they both have a legal obligation to make mortgage payments. That’s pretty straightforward. But when only one spouse signs a promissory note, only he or she owes the money. To oversimplify the problem, if the home-owner dies before becoming divorced, the surviving spouse has no legal responsibility to make the mortgage payments. But regardless of the fact that a married couple is separated, as a spouse, the non-home-owner would still have certain inheritance and survivorship rights to the property.

Remedy #1 – Free Trader Agreement

Mortgage lenders require parties to sign an FTA, which is an agreed-upon right to buy (i.e., trade) freely (i.e., without interference). Mortgage lenders lend money to buy a home that will be theirs if they foreclose on the loan. They don’t want to share any ownership of the home with the surviving spouse (who isn’t obligated to make mortgage payments). The purpose of an FTA is for the spouse who is not buying the home agrees to waive all claim to it, including inheritance and/or survivorship rights. Usually recorded on public record at the office of the Register of Deeds, these contracts clarify that the spouse buying the home has exclusive ownership of it, even though he or she is married. Because the FTA is a contract, both parties must voluntarily agree to sign it. 

Remedy #2 – The Divorce

When a divorce decree is granted, the other person is no longer a spouse, so the mortgage lender no longer has the problem of an ex who is still a surviving spouse even if they were separated for some time when the home was purchased. However, in North Carolina, a spouse can’t even sign the divorce complaint, which generates the lawsuit, until he or she has been separated for at least one full year. When a spouse files for a divorce, it usually takes another two to three months before the divorce decree is granted. When the other spouse refuses to sign an FTA, the only remedy is the divorce, which is nearly impossible to contest because it is based on a one-year separation.

Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney at Amy Edwards & Associates, PLLC, in Greenville, NC. She is certified by the NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist, and is licensed only in NC. Laws change. This article is current as of 2019.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email