DeWolf and Watts v. Countrywide
After falling in love and making a lifetime commitment, Adola DeWolf, 49, a teacher for juveniles in the justice system, and Laura Watts, 42, a college administrator, decided to move in together and share a mortgage. Watts sold her house and moved into DeWolf's home outside of Rochester, New York. To make sure both partners were protected in case of death, and to share the responsibility for the mortgage, they contacted DeWolf's mortgage company, Countrywide, to add Watts to the mortgage.
Countrywide instructed the couple to take several steps, which included a change to the deed. But after the couple followed those steps, Countrywide responded by saying the change to the deed was unauthorized and threatened to foreclose on the house if the almost $80,000 balance on the mortgage was not paid in 30 days. The company said it did not recognize domestic partners as family. Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of the couple. One claim argues that under the federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act, creditors cannot discriminate against applicants based on marital status.
People in same-sex relationships in New York are frequently treated as legal strangers. This case comes both a year after the New York high court upheld the state's exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage and the same week Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell officially introduced Governor Elliot Spitzer's bill allowing same-sex couples to marry to the legislature.
Lambda Legal's Impact
A victory in this case would help remind home loan lenders throughout the country that they must treat unmarried same-sex couples as they do married different-sex couples.
- May 2007: Lambda Legal files lawsuit.
- August 2010: Lambda Legal and Countrywide reach settlement agreement after Fannie Mae changes its mortgage policies.
Adola DeWolf and Laura Watts
Thomas W. Ude, Jr.
Beau W. Buffier, James L. Garrity Jr. and David M. Sollors of Shearman & Sterling LLP