Solving Disputes Between Co-Owners

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Disputes between family members or between other groups of people who own property together

When family members own property together, it is not always a happy scenario.  I have helped property owners in many cases where property has been left jointly to siblings who cannot agree on what to do with it.  Often, one sibling wants to use the property while the other wants to sell it.  In other cases, unmarried couples buy property together and then split up, and the disposition of the property has to be addressed in the civil court, rather than a matrimonial court that would normally handle a divorce proceeding.

In all of these cases, the law of partition applies.  Under partition law, unless the owners have made an agreement not to partition the property, any owner can force a judicial sale.

I have handled numerous partition cases and am familiar with all of the strategic questions involved.  These include such considerations as

  • whether the court can set an “upset price,” to protect the owners from lowball bidders;
  • when and how to settle a case by means of a sale on the open market through a broker, rather than a judicial sale, to maximize value;
  • how to structure a buyout by one party;
  • how to resolve disputes regarding property value;
  • the types of costs and expenses each owner is required to reimburse to the other in an accounting, which is a key part of a partition action; and
  • whether one party “ousted” another by excluding them from the property, in which case that party becomes responsible for all of the costs and expenses of the property.

In addition to partition actions, I handle other typical property disputes that crop up regularly within families, including Surrogate’s Court proceedings involving wills and trusts, and litigation involving life estates and remainder issues in deeds and titles.

In all of these intra-family cases I am mindful of the deep emotional content of the disputes.  I find that my clear guidance on the applicable laws and procedures often calms my clients’ anxieties.  At the end of the day, property in the Hamptons and on the East End is both a financial and emotional investment, and I keep both of those aspects uppermost in my mind when working on family disputes.

Case Study:  Painful Family Dispute Resolved to Everyone’s Benefit

In 2014, I represented three adult siblings who had come to a disagreement with a fourth sibling regarding their family home in Sag Harbor.  I started a partition action which forced all parties to come to the table. It quickly became clear that a buy-out was not realistic, so I worked with all of my clients and opposing counsel to negotiate and consummate a third-party sale that was in all of the owners’ best interests.  It was an emotional process that took time and patience, but all parties received the proceeds to which they were entitled, and they have since been free to move on with their independent lives.

Reported Case: McLoughlin v. McLoughlin

McLoughlin v. McLoughlin, 67 A.D.3d 751 (2d Dep’t 2009) (won judgment in a partition case requiring buyout of client’s interest in property in Southampton Estate Section, after a non-jury trial that I first-chaired; judgment affirmed on appeal).

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