How Do I Get Out of Home Ownership with My Ex-Girlfriend or Boyfriend?

For unmarried partners living together in Minnesota, it’s best to plan ahead

More adults in relationships are choosing to live together outside of marriage, and many of these couples are choosing to purchase a home together. Though marriage laws in Minnesota protect spouses’ interests in real estate, those laws do not apply to unmarried couples.

For married spouses, all property acquired during the marriage is marital property, regardless of how the property is titled. For example, if a home is purchased during the marriage but only one spouse appears on the deed, that property will still be presumed marital and the non-titled spouse is presumed to have an equal interest to that of the titled spouse.

Not so for an unmarried couple. An unmarried partner that does not appear on the deed has no legal interest in the real estate. If the non-titled spouse contributed his or her own money or labor toward the mortgage, taxes or improvements, that spouse may be owed nothing when the relationship ends.

There are limited options for getting out of ownership once the relationship ends

Partners that plan ahead have perhaps signed a cohabitation agreement—a written agreement for unmarried couples that’s very similar to a pre-nuptial agreement. If not, anti-palimony laws typically prevent a court from enforcing any unwritten or verbal agreement between partners.

Lacking a written agreement, the issue then becomes whether or not both partners have a legal interest in the property. If only one partner appears on the deed, the non-titled partner will have little leverage to negotiate a resolution—unless they can clearly demonstrate an equitable interest in the property.

Potentially, the partners can resolve the dispute on their own. But even the most fair-minded people struggle to resolve conflicts while going through a breakup. Without a resolution, the last resort is likely filing a claim in a district court for partition of real estate.

What is a Partition?

As the real estate market has changed to one dominated by single-family homes, partitions—or physical divisions of land—have become less common. However, the recent increase in unmarried couples cohabitating has made partitions more common once again.

Land may also be partitioned by sale: Either one partner buys the other out, or both partners agree to list the property and split the proceeds. If listing, sale price will determine value. If one (or both) partners wish to remain in the home, there could be a dispute over its value.

To manage disputes between the partners, the court may appoint one or more neutral referees to manage the sale. The referee(s) will bill for their time, and may have full discretion to perform any and all responsibilities necessary for sale, including:

  • hiring one or more real estate appraisers
  • choosing an agent
  • determining list price
  • performing and contracting for tasks necessary prior to listing
  • accepting or countering offers
  • determining costs to be deducted from the sale price
  • negotiating with buyers and their agents

Most disputes arise out of splitting potential equity. One partner may feel they contributed more to the equity, or, perhaps, one partner may claim there was an understanding regarding costs and the other partner disagrees. If this is the case, a court will likely need to hold a hearing or trial to take evidence from the parties, which greatly increases the cost and complexity of the matter.

How to avoid problems

Plan ahead. The best approach is to talk with an experienced real estate attorney before you purchase a home or other real property with a significant other. An attorney can advise you on the burdens and benefits of co-ownership, and draft a co-habitation agreement that will protect your asset. If you already own property with a partner and are looking to get out, an attorney can also educate you on your options, and help you make the decisions that will allow you to move on.

For more information on this area, check out our overview of real estate laws.

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