Dear Harry:

Back in 1982, I purchased a property with a 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage. Two years later, I married, and we lived in the house together until 1992, when we separated. I moved out of the house in 1996 and allowed her to move back in. She then paid the monthly mortgage and taxes until the house was paid off. I recently moved back to Philadelphia, and would like to get my fair share of the property. The deed has always been in my name alone. We never divorced. She says that the house is hers because she made the last payments on the mortgage and she was living there for so long. What are my rights? The property is worth about $100,000 now. I paid $39,000 for it.

What Harry says: The property still belongs to you. However, she is still your lawful wife, so you could not transfer the title without her consent. A number of questions need to be resolved. Do you want to sell the house to her? Were her mortgage and maintenance payments the equivalent of rent? If they exceeded a fair rental, she should be given credit for the excess. Of course, this would change if she lived there with your children. I think it's worth the money for each of you to get a lawyer to discuss who gets what. Remember, compromise is far better than allowing this to go to court.

Write Harry Gross c/o the Daily News, 400 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19130. Harry urges all his readers to give blood: Contact the American Red Cross at 800-GIVE LIFE.