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Real estate Q&A: How can I get back what I put into house co-owned by ex-fiance?


Q: A few years ago, I bought a house with my fiancé, who is now my ex-fiancé. He took a loan, and I used my savings to pay the rest. I also paid to furnish the property and make repairs. We split the rest of the bills. Now I want to either sell the house or have my ex buy me out. He is not interested in doing anything. Do I have a way to get back what I put into the house and split the remaining money? — Christine

A: You should be able to get some of it back and force the sale.

When more than one person owns real estate, any owner can force the sale of the property even if the other owners do not want to. However, the owner who does not want to sell can usually buy the owner who wants to sell’s portion of the home.

At least from my perspective as a practicing attorney, the usual situation is that one person moves out and wants to sell, and the other wants to stay put and maintain the status quo.

You will need to file a “partition” lawsuit to resolve the problem. Partition is by right with jointly owned property, so the property will be split up even if one owner does not want to.

If the property is vacant land or a cow pasture, the court can easily accomplish this — they simply draw a line down the middle.

However, when there is a building on the property or zoning rules forbid splitting the property, the only remaining option is to have the property sold and the remaining equity split between the owners.

To determine the split, the court will look at the specifics of the purchase and maintenance of the home. Who made the down payment, paid the bills, and made the repairs will be looked at.

The court will try to reach a fair split, but that does not mean that each party will get back the money they put into the property. General upkeep and monthly bills are rarely considered, only money that improved the property’s value or helped with the purchase.

Most of the time, it ends up being close to an even split.

These lawsuits are effective, but since the result is the same, it can save considerable expenses for all involved if they can work it out themselves.