Wife and Husband or Husband and Wife?

My first experience working on deeds was when I was halfway through a course in women’s history at college so in a tiny act of rebellion, when I received a deed request for John Smith and Jane Smith, married to John Doe and Jane Doe, married, I would draft it as Jane Smith and John Smith, Wife and Husband to Jane Doe and John Doe, Wife and Husband. It was a nice change compared to the older deeds where the husband always came first, or worse, when they listed them as John Smith and Jane Smith, his wife. And then, several deeds in, came the request from the title company for a change to the language: “underwriting requests that the Grantors be listed as ‘John Smith and Jane Smith, Husband and Wife. Please update and return.” Why on earth would it matter the order of the names?

Well, like so many things in life, that answer is in the history books. As a former colony, a great deal of American law is based in English common law and coverture, where a married woman ceased to exist as a legal entity and was “covered” by her husband, was a legal reality for centuries on both sides of the Atlantic. Prior to marriage, a woman would exist as her own entity legally and if she was widowed without children (or male relatives to fight on inheritance) once again a legal status would be restored. Obviously, there were still limitations on many of these rights, but nothing compared to the complete lack of rights for married women. Upon marriage a woman’s legal existence ceased. She could hold no property separately, receive no inheritance. Sell nothing, buy nothing. Even her children were not hers.

The reality of what this meant for women’s daily lives obviously varied depending on how much a husband chose to use the letter of the law to control the household and year after year, decade after decade different aspects of coverture have been curbed. But the legal reality that it has never simply been overturned should not be ignored, especially when hints of it are still coming through in our daily practice. Just this week our office had to prepare an addendum to be signed by all parties in the transaction acknowledging the husband of our buyers as the primary borrower. Both buyers are going to appear on the deed and mortgage for their marital residence, both buyers are working and have good credit, and both buyers have capital being used for the down payment so we asked the lender why would we need to formally name him primary borrower? The answer was simply “it is the credit union’s policy”.

Hints of coverture, or a husband and wife existing as one entity, are elsewhere in more obvious fashion, even with updates. For instance, in New Jersey a married couple spending just one night in a property can make it a marital residence, meaning both husband and wife need to sign a deed to avoid possible future title disputes. Now the change of course is that in the 1700’s a husband could do what he liked with a marital property and modern marital residence law means that even if a deed is just in a husband’s name, he cannot simply sell the property without his wife’s knowledge. But it also goes in the other direction, as we explained to a client recently who was selling her home one week after her wedding. When we explained that if her and her new husband spent even one night in the property together before closing title would require him to sign all of the documents, she was shocked. But her marriage had impacted how her property was viewed in the eyes of the law, so it had to be addressed. Even a property purchased when you are single and sold when you are embarking on the new phase of your life will be touched.

I still try and rebel by listing wives before husbands and sometimes I still get the request back to change the order, but hopefully as more deeds go into the public record as “Wife and Husband” underwriters will stop fighting it and we can keep chipping away at another legal tradition that belongs in the past.  

Sources/Further Reading:

New Law: New Jersey Lead-Based Paint Inspections in Rental Dwelling Units – Effective: July 22, 2022

In accordance with a new lead-based inspection law, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has issued guidelines and a frequently asked questions page (links below). The law requires that all rental dwelling units (required to be inspected) must be inspected for lead-based paint within two years of the law taking effect on July 22, 2022, or upon tenant turnover, whichever is earlier. This means that the first inspection must take place no later than July 22, 2024. This new law is not currently tied to time-of-sale requirements.

After the initial inspection, all units shall be inspected for lead-based paint hazards every three years, or upon tenant turnover, whichever is earlier. An inspection upon tenant turnover is not required if the owner has a valid lead-safe certificate. Lead-safe certificates are valid for two years. If the lead-safe certificate has expired, and there will be a tenant turnover, an inspection will be necessary before the three-year inspection.

In all scenarios, the next inspection should be scheduled three years from the date of issuance of the most recent valid lead-safe certification. Please see the helpful resources below for a link to the form.



  • Rental properties subject to the new law must be inspected for lead-based paint within two years of the law taking effect on July 22, 2022, or upon tenant turnover, whichever is earlier.
  • The type of inspection will depend on the lead levels in children in the municipality where a rental is located

Remediation Requirements

  • Properties where lead is found during an inspection will need to undergo remediation, either to make it lead safe or lead free
  • The type of remediation will determine if future inspections are required
  • Measures to temporarily make a property free of lead paint will make it lead safe
  • Measures to completely eliminate lead paint will make it lead free 

Properties Subject to New Lead Paint Law 

  • Single-Family Residential Rental Homes Built Before 1978
  • Two-Family Residential Rental Homes Built Before 1978

Properties Not Subject to New Lead Paint Law

  • Homes Built During or After 1978
  • One and Two-Family Seasonal Rental Dwellings Rented for Less than 6 Months that Do Not Have Consecutive Lease Renewals
  • Dwellings Certified to be Free of Lead Paint
  • This new law is not currently tied to time-of-sale requirements.

Helpful Resources:

New Jersey Department of Health Form Update – Seller’s Property Condition Disclosure Statement

A Seller’s Disclosure is a document that requires sellers to provide previously undisclosed details about the property’s condition that prospective buyers may find useful and often unfavorable. The Disclosure is important for both the buyer and seller. For buyer, the Disclosure provides a clearer picture of the home and its history and allows them to make a more educated decision on whether to purchase the home. For sellers, the Disclosure can and will protect them from future litigation given the information is comprehensive and accurate. In New Jersey, home sellers are not required to fill out this disclosure form – though it is often recommended to ensure that sellers meet the state’s disclosure obligations, which are required.

In April, the New Jersey Department of Health released an updated form for the Seller Property Condition Disclosure Statement, commonly used in real estate transactions. The update to the form “requires that when a seller discloses on the property condition disclosure statement awareness of water leakage, accumulation or dampness, the presence of mold or other similar natural substance, or repairs or other attempts to control any water dampness problem on the property, the real estate broker, broker-salesperson, or salesperson shall refer the buyer of the real property to the “Mold Guidelines for New Jersey Residents” pamphlet issued by the New Jersey Department of Health, (, and, if requested, give the buyer a physical copy of the document.”

The New Jersey REALTORS® Seller Property Condition Disclosure, Form #140 has been updated with a new question 126 to reflect the law.