Partitions are often filed when the land title is disputed or co-owners of real property can’t agree on what to do with it. The most common situations when partitions are necessary usually involve unmarried couples, relatives that inherit jointly owned property, or co-owners of investment properties.
In rural communities, it’s common for disputes to occur over ownership of unkempt land. If two owners can’t agree on how to handle the property, each has their own right to file a partition and let the courts intervene.
Usually, a partition lawsuit results in the forced sale of the property. The proceeds from the sale are generally split between the owners afterward. However, this doesn’t always happen. If the property can be divided proportionately between the owners (in the case of vacant plots of land, for example), the court may go down that route. The problem with that solution is that most real property can’t be divided between multiple owners – and a court is unlikely to tell anyone to draw a line through their house to mark each party’s side. For that reason, forcing the sale is usually the best way to resolve the dispute.
One of the biggest instances that require partitions is inheritance. Often, a single property owner dies and wills it to their children. Each child might have a different idea of how to handle the property, resulting in disagreements between the siblings. If these arguments can’t be settled, a partition may be necessary.
Similarly, unmarried couples or business partners might invest in a property together, only to go their separate ways over time. If they can’t agree on how to handle their jointly-owned property, filing a partition lawsuit might be the only option.
In the case of unmarried couples, partition actions are often maintained contemporaneously with actions for allocation of parental responsibilities for those couples’ minor children. It is not uncommon for one or both spouses to attempt to use partitions or other civil litigation to leverage favorable settlements or results in the domestic relations case. Similarly, where an unmarried couple lived together, combined finances, shared space and personal belongings, etc., it is not uncommon to see a partition action combined with claims for retrieval of personal property (such as replevin, civil theft, trespass to chattels, or conversion), unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, breach of contract, and civil protection orders for domestic violence. Strategically maintaining or defending against any combination of these cases can require significant legal expertise and litigation experience. If you find yourself faced with the need to partition property or engage in any other type of litigation as a means of leaving a relationship, or if one of these types of cases has been filed against you, speak to and retain an attorney well versed in these areas.
Also, keep in mind that a partition lawsuit can be filed for both commercial and residential properties. As long as someone has an interest in the property, the dispute can be handled in court.
Anyone that has an interest in a property can file a partition to make the courts decide on ownership. As stated above, if the property can’t be divided “in kind”, the courts will force a sale.
When this happens, the proceeds are divided between the owners, but they don’t necessarily have to be divided equally. If one of the parties can show sufficient evidence they contributed more to the property, whether through renovations or maintenance, the court will take that into account. Generally, the court will look at how these improvements affected the property’s increased value rather than actual expenses when determining the proceed split.
In practice, however, because partition by sale judgment will only direct the County Sheriff to sell the property and short sale is unlikely to result in a sale price commiserate with a private sale, most parties settle partition actions either prior to or immediately following the trial – agreeing to either sell the property and divide the proceeds between them or for one of the parties to buy the other out.
Partition lawsuits are often emotional and concern real estate that is often the most important asset in an individual’s life. That’s why it’s important to find someone to represent you that will keep your best interests in mind. At BAM Family Law, we strive to give our clients the best possible outcomes, even through some of the most trying times.
If you’re involved in a property dispute or believe commencing a partition or similar action may be an avenue for you to leave a problematic relationship, contact us to schedule a consultation.