No doubt just about everyone knows the parable of the prodigal son. Like most often repeated stories, it actually has application in today’s world. Somewhere in New Jersey, some family is squabbling about an estate passed on through inheritance. So, what happens when it looks like joint owners need to divide real property?
It’s a common event. A well-intentioned parent divides up property between his or her children. Perhaps it’s a great tract of land up in Sussex or Warren County. The parcel has been in the family for decades and is undeveloped.
The son dreams of becoming a farmer – taking heed of the tax advantages. In the meantime, the other joint owner sees dollar signs. She and her husband know there are developers itching to build mega-mansions on the acres and acres of acquired property.
Of course, inheritance is not the only way that people become joint owners of parcels of land. More than a few couples approaching nuptials have figured their relationship is strong enough to buy property together. In fact, the National Association of Realtors found that unwed twosomes purchased approximately 17% of homes in 2017.
Even with the best of plans, some engaged couples will never become husband and wife. Of course, there’s then the dilemma of dividing up the property and moving on. Frankly, even those who jointly own properties as part of business partnerships face the same predicament.
Joint Owners and the Division of Property
On first glance, the solution seems obvious. Find the right buyer and dispose of the property. In theory, that’s a great concept. However, there’s a possibility that neither of you is willing to agree on a price or land use.
All things considered, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Truth be told, it might help for you to both consider retaining an experienced real estate attorney and negotiate an appropriate division or sale of the property.
Meanwhile, reality might call for a more aggressive alternative. Court intervention may be the only solution. At this point, you’ll readily understand why it was critical to have a real estate lawyer in your court.
Partition Actions in New Jersey
When you need judicial intercession regarding the division of real property between co-owners, your legal matter is venued in the county where the land is located. NJSA 2A:56-1 and the statutes that follow discuss the requirements to effect a partition of real estate. These types of lawsuits constitute “partition actions.”
The results of a partition action may be different than your mind mentally envisions. Frankly, it’s not necessarily about setting up concrete dividers or fencing as barriers between adjacent property.
Moreover, the court looks at the most equitable way of physically dividing the land among the joint owners. It is then distributed accordingly.
Take our prior example. If zoning permits it – and there is enough land, one co-owner becomes a farmer. The other turns over the property deed to the prospective developer.
One critical qualification. Spouses who are considered tenants by the entirety may not pursue partition actions. In their case, they jointly own the property with a right of survivorship. If their marriage ends, they will most likely work out the terms of the land division as part of a divorce action.
Do you jointly own property with someone else and need to divide it? Contact the Law Offices of Lawrence M. Centanni to schedule an appointment.