It's the Law: Partition lawsuit can force the sale of jointly owned property

Q: I bought a house with my girlfriend. She ran off with another man and now wants me to sell the house or buy her out. She said she will file a partition lawsuit if I do not cooperate. Can you explain a partition lawsuit?

A: Your problem is not uncommon in situations where more than one person owns real estate. If you ever buy property with someone else in the future, I strongly urge you to work with an attorney to draft a partnership or ownership agreement so you can avoid your current problem.

Since it does not sound like you have a written agreement with your ex-girlfriend, you very well may face a partition action if you cannot amicably resolve your dispute.

A partition lawsuit seeks to divide property between more than one owner. Partition lawsuits are governed by Chapter 64 of the Florida Statutes.

Any one or more owners of the property can file a partition action. The complaint describes the land, the owners and the interest of each owner. The suit can be filed without regard to the manner in which property is owned, except that property owned by a husband and wife as an estate by the entirety is not subject to partition during the joint lives of the spouses and while they are still married.

In a partition action, the court is asked to divide the property among the owners. If the property is not subject to division (like your house), the court can order the property sold and the proceeds distributed among the owners.

If the court grants partition, it generally will appoint a qualified disinterested party to sell the property. Appraisal usually is required. The person appointed to sell the property gets a fee, as does the appraiser. The property usually is listed with a Realtor, who gets a fee. In addition, there are attorney fees and court costs. Partition can be expensive.

In most partition cases, the person filing the complaint also requests an accounting for rent, profit and moneys expended. This allows the court to apportion the sale proceeds so the owners are reimbursed for moneys they have paid for such items as taxes, insurance, repairs, mortgage, purchase price and improvements.

By statute, all owners are bound by the judgment and are required to pay a share of the costs, including the attorney fees of the plaintiff or the defendant as the court determines to have been of benefit to the partition. That usually means the plaintiff's attorney fees are shared by all, and little of the fees paid by a person opposing the partition is shared.

Because a partition action is expensive and stressful, it almost always is preferable that the parties reach agreement rather than litigate. When a reasonable agreement cannot be reached, the partition action is available.

Rights and obligations in a partition action depend on the particular facts and circumstances of each case. You should discuss the facts of your case with a qualified attorney as soon as possible.

Your meeting with an attorney not only will prepare you for litigation, but also may assist in settling your dispute with your ex-girlfriend.

William G. Morris is an attorney with offices at 247 N. Collier Blvd. on Marco Island. The information in this column is not intended as legal advice and, of necessity, is generalized. For questions about specific circumstances, the reader should consult a qualified attorney. Questions for this column can be sent by e-mail to wgmorrislaw@earthlink.net, or by fax to (239) 642-0722. Read other columns at http://www.wgmorris.com.

© 2005 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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