Last Update: 10/28/17
There are all sorts of situations where someone may share ownership in Florida real estate and there are lots of good reasons to own real estate jointly; however, when things go south, jointly owned property can be a tremendous headache for all of the parties involved.
Consider these situations where sharing ownership in Florida real estate can become impossible for at least one of the joint owners:
- Husband and wife share ownership in a home or a vacation condo — and now they are divorcing.
- A boyfriend and girlfriend purchase real estate thinking they are getting married and then the relationship ends.
- Children inherit a shared interest in Florida real estate from their parent – but they live all over the country, and cannot agree on how best to manage or develop the property.
- Business investors bought improved or undeveloped land in Florida for profit – and the market tanked. Now, no one can agree on what to do with the property.
In the above situations, the underlying scenarios involve divorce law, probate law, and contract or partnership law – but they will also need to look to Florida real estate law for a solution to their dilemmas. Real property conflicts are addressed according to statutory and common law: ownership of Florida real estate is protected and governed, now and in the future, specifically by well established Florida property laws.
Partition Actions to Solve the Problem of Shared Ownership of Florida Real Estate
For Florida real estate lawyers who are knowledgeable and experienced in Florida real property law, the solution to a problem of joint ownership is to file a partition action under Chapter 64 of Florida statutes.
The Partition of property is an official lawsuit that is distinct from probating a will, suing for a breach of a business contract, or filing for divorce. Partition lawsuits seek a judgment, signed by a Florida judge, that formally alters the title and ownership of real estate. Additionally, if there are disputes over money, over things like expenses for the upkeep and maintenance of the real estate that were not fairly assessed against the joint owners, then the judge can also order a fair and equitable distribution of those costs among the owners as part of the partition lawsuit.
Once a party(s) decides that court intervention is the only way to resolve a joint ownership problem, the lawsuit is filed in the county where the contested real estate is located. All of the owners of the property are named in the partition lawsuit, with the joint owner (or owners) that want to dissolve the shared ownership serving as plaintiff, or petitioner, with the remaining owners in the role of defendant, or respondent. (Please note, just because all of the shared owners do not agree with splitting the real estate, does not mean the unhappy or dissatisfied joint owner is prevented from being able to file a partition lawsuit.)
Courtroom Judgment or Negotiated Result
Once a partition action is filed by the real estate lawyer, the remaining owners of the real estate are formally served with notice of the partition lawsuit (they are served with a summons and a copy of the lawsuit) and they are given a set number of days to file their formal response to the partition request.
Sometimes, this results in a full-blown courthouse fight. When that happens, it is usually because there is an emotional component to the controversy and the parties have a personal interest in the real estate (say, inheritance or family home in a divorce). Big courtroom battles happen less often between arms-length joint owners in a business investment that hasn’t panned out.
In those instances where partition litigation goes all the way to verdict, the trial judge issues an Order, which is later recorded in the public records, either transferring legal title of the real estate to a third party (pursuant to a pending sales transaction) or directing the property be sold at public auction.
However, it many instances Florida real estate attorneys obtains success for their clients by negotiating, through a settlement conference or at a formal mediation, an agreed end to the joint or shared ownership, including how any expenses or costs should be distributed among the parties. This, of course, is a faster, simpler and less costly resolution than a formal trial.
In this situation, a formal written settlement agreement is signed by the parties, and an courtroom trial battle is avoided. Real estate documentation (new deed, etc.) is recorded in the real property records to reflect the new ownership and no formal judgment is necessary.
What Should You Do?
A good piece of advice is to at least speak with an experienced Florida real estate lawyer to learn about your rights. Most real estate lawyers, like Larry Tolchinsky, offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.
For more about Florida partition actions, read our earlier post:
- Partition of Real Estate in Florida: Can You Divide Property Under Florida Law?
- Partition of Florida Homestead Property
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