What Is the Meaning of Lis Pendens in a Divorce?
By Maggie Lourdes
Lis pendens are notices that warn the public of lawsuits that affect real estate. They are used in divorce cases to prevent one spouse from transferring real estate without the other spouse's knowledge, and they serve to protect the spouses until the spouses reach a settlement or a judge decides how to fairly divide the real estate between them.
Lis Pendens Requirements
There must be a notice of lis pendens, and it must name the parties in a lawsuit, the court in which the lawsuit is pending, the name of the judge overseeing the case, and the assigned docket number to the proceedings. Typically, it also must provide the address, legal description and tax identification number for the real estate affected in the suit. A lis pendens is recorded in the register of deeds in the county in which the real estate is located. A separate lis pendens must be recorded for each piece of individual property involved in the divorce.
Failure to Record
Failing to record a lis pendens during a divorce may lead to property loss. A purchaser may innocently buy real estate involved in a divorce unless a recorded lis pendens warns him not to. An innocent purchaser does need to give the property back, even if a judge later awards it to you in the divorce. A recorded lis pendens may also help protect your property interests if your spouse files bankruptcy. It gives you a recorded interest and a higher priority over your spouse's unsecured creditors in bankruptcy court.
Discharging Lis Pendens
Generally, a final judgment for divorce discharges a lis pendens. You may also discharge a lis pendens by recording a Discharge of Lis Pendens at the register of deeds where it is filed. Judgments and discharges should identify the real estate involved by common addresses and legal descriptions. Final judgments are specifically entered to close out lawsuits. A discharge should also state the lawsuit referenced in a lis pendens is closed and the lis pendens is permanently terminated.
State Law Varies
Each state has its own set of statutes governing the requirements for lis penden. State statutes vary so you should check your state law to answer specific questions about lis pendens and how they operate in your jurisdiction. Recording requirements also vary in different states. For example, each state has technical requirements for recordable documents, such as page margins, ink colors and letter point sizes. Check with your local register of deeds to answer questions about recording requirements.
Maggie Lourdes is a full-time attorney in southeast Michigan. She teaches law at Cleary University in Ann Arbor and online for National University in San Diego. Her writing has been featured in "Realtor Magazine," the N.Y. State Bar's "Health Law Journal," "Oakland County Legal News," "Michigan Probate & Estate Planning Journal," "Eye Spy Magazine" and "Surplus Today" magazine.