Can a Spouse Gamble Away Your Home—or Sell It Without Your Permission?

by Garcia Chris
8 minutes read
Can a Spouse Gamble Away Your Home—or Sell It Without Your Permission?

Gambling has been making headlines lately. First, baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani‘s interpreter allegedly stole millions from his boss to gamble. Then, on April 17, the NBA imposed a lifetime ban on Jontay Porter, a forward for the Toronto Raptors, for betting against his team.

Porter used a gambling app to place his bets, and the ease of using these apps has seen gambling addictions soar recently. Up to 20 million Americans have gambling problems or are at risk, according to

Gambling addiction can lead individuals to make irrational decisions, including using assets like a house as collateral for gambling debts.

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Some homeowners, desperate to settle their debts, might be tempted to get extra cash with a home equity loan (HELOC) or even sell their house—without their spouse’s knowledge.

Luckily, despite what you see in the movies, your spouse can’t throw a deed into the pot in Las Vegas and gamble away your house. In most jurisdictions, gambling debts are not legally enforceable in court.

But that doesn’t stop some sneaky spouses from trying. Here’s what a spouse can and can’t do without your knowledge–and how to protect yourself.

Selling a house without a spouse’s permission

Generally, the real estate adage applies: one to buy and two to sell.

Simply put, a spouse can buy a house independently, but both should agree to sell their marital home.

It’s a good rule of thumb, but what does the law say about home equity loans and selling a house behind the other spouse’s back? Well, it can get complicated.

Whether one spouse can sell a marital home without the other knowing depends on the laws and circumstances of their state.

It all comes down to several factors, such as who is on the deed (a document that proves ownership), if the house is considered separate or marital property, and the community property and common laws that apply in your state.

Can one spouse get a loan on a jointly owned home?

Let’s say one of the spouses wants to get more money to gamble or pay off the debt they racked up. They might be eyeing a home equity loan, a refinance, or even a reverse mortgage without telling the other spouse.

But can they even do that?

In most cases, one spouse cannot use a jointly owned house to get secret cash without the knowledge or consent of the other spouse, primarily if the title lists both spouses as owners of the property.

“Typically, if both spouses are on the deed, any lender will require both parties to take out the loan or require that the party not taking on the liability sign an affidavit indicating that they agree with the other party attaching a lien to the property,” says Jamie Berger, co-founder and family law attorney at Jacobs Berger LLC in New Jersey.

Selling a house without a spouse’s permission

Trying to get a home equity loan on the down low is one thing, but what if one spouse wants to sell the marital home out from under their spouse?

“It would only be possible to legally sell the home if one spouse had power of attorney over the other or if there is some stipulation in a divorce settlement,” says Derk Jacques, a family law attorney at the Mitten Law Firm in Southgate, MI.

Yet, some homeowners might still try to sell a home privately or hire an agent. However, similar documentation is required in both cases.

“Typically, in a sale or lease, we need to have all owners of record sign or have documentation showing any authorization for someone else to sign on an owner’s behalf,” says Andrea Viscuso, an agent at Forte Team at Compass in Connecticut.

Spouses can get sneaky anyway

There have been instances where one spouse attempts to sell a property without the other’s knowledge, even if both parties are on the deed, often in divorce or marital discord. This situation typically involves deceptive or illegal practices, resulting in legal battles and complications.

If your spouse tries to sell a jointly owned property without your permission, you might have legal recourse to challenge the sale and seek remedies through the court system.

Legal options might include seeking an injunction to stop the sale, pursuing civil action for damages, or addressing the matter as part of divorce proceedings.

When only one spouse is on the deed

So what can a spouse do without the other spouse’s knowledge when only one spouse is on the deed? More than you think.

“It would be significantly easier to prevent your spouse from knowing about a HELOC or reverse mortgage if they aren’t on the deed, as this could mean they don’t have an ownership stake in the house,” says Jacques. “Likewise, if only one spouse is on the deed, then that spouse can absolutely list the house for sale.”

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the spouse with the gambling debt receives all the money from the sale of the house.

For example, Jacques practices in an equitable distribution state, meaning property is divided “equitably” but not equally.

“One spouse can retain ownership rights to the home, but the other may end up with a bigger share of any joint bank accounts,” says Jacques.

For instance, he once had a client who wanted to sell the marital home due to an impending divorce and was the only spouse on the deed. But because the nondeeded spouse had lived in the house for many years, the judge said the property was no longer separate and declared it marital property. In this case, the sale proceeds weren’t split 50-50 but were somewhat balanced as the nondeeded spouse was entitled to some of the deeded spouse’s retirement account.

How to protect yourself

If you suspect your spouse might try to take out a loan against the house or sell it, consult an attorney immediately to protect your interests.

“You can file a motion with the appropriate court to prevent such action, which will put the other spouse on notice that you are protecting your rights to the equity in the property,” says Berger.

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And if you’re the spouse thinking of selling without telling your spouse, think twice. You could be nailed for fraud by omitting your spouse and face other legal ramifications. Courts generally perceive selling a house without the spouse’s consent as underhanded and could lead to serious legal consequences.

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