Under Massachusetts law, no one can be forced to own property against their will. It’s not uncommon for unmarried couples to purchase a home together. However, when couples decide to break up and only one party wants to sell the property, legal actions can be taken.
When one party refuses to sell, the party wanting to opt-out of ownership can file a Petition to Partition so long as both parties’ names are on the deed. This action begins the legal proceeding to force the sale of a property owned by co-tenants with a present, undivided legal interest (unmarried couples). If only one party’s name is on the deed and refuses to pay the other party for a share in the equity of the property, the aggrieved non-titled party would have to file a Complaint in Equity as there is no set remedy at law unless both parties are on the title. The best practice is to have both names on the title if the intent is joint ownership. In addition, parties should considering a cohabitation agreement (like a prenuptial agreement for non-married parties) that details responsibilities/obligations for the property and what happens in the event the relationship ends.
In a Petition to Partition, the division of a single-family residence is impractical therefore, the court will order the sale of the property. The property can be sold through a public auction, a private sale via a market listing, or a buy-out by the other owner. A court-appointed commissioner will often oversee the sale of the property.
No matter which method of selling the property is used, the court is required to seek the highest possible return at current fair market value. Proceeds will be divided equitably (50/50) unless one party can prove they made a greater contribution towards the maintenance, upkeep, and fees associated with the property.
In cases where the property can be divided, the court may divide the property and split the ownership.
Property of a court-ordered forced sale will typically sell for less than it would on the market. An attorney can facilitate negotiations between you and the property’s co-owner to help save money. Contact our office today to discuss your options or to file a Petition to Partition.