Co-owner of house doesn’t want to sell. What can we do?

Q: My son owns a house with my ex-husband. My son is the borrower on the mortgage loan, and I put up the money for the down payment when they bought it. My son wants to sell the house, but my ex will not agree unless he gets part of the proceeds even though he has not helped with the house or made the payments. What can we do? — Kelly

A: People who own property together and cannot agree on what to do with them are among the most common disputes I see in my practice.

Co-owners who are not spouses share the rights and responsibilities associated with property ownership.

Often conflicts develop over the maintenance or disposition of the house. For example, one owner may want to sell while the other does not, or an owner may feel they are doing more than their share of the upkeep.

No one should purchase a property with anyone other than their spouse without a written joint ownership agreement covering each’s responsibilities and how to handle common disputes.

Since very few people have this agreement prepared, the owners often find themselves in court.

Your son may have to file a “partition” lawsuit. In a partition, the court will look at the circumstances of the purchase and ownership of the property to decide the fairest way to separate the owner’s interest. This type of lawsuit is like a divorce, but for property owners instead of spouses.

The judge will consider how the down payment was made, who paid the mortgage, taxes, and expenses, and how the property was used to craft a fair split.

This process usually requires that the property be sold, any debt paid off, and the remaining equity split fairly. In some instances, one party may buy out the other if they want to do that.

While partition suits effectively resolve the issue, any litigation can be expensive and take a long time to work its way through the court.

Like most disputes, it is best to work things out without having to sue at all.

Nonspouse owners of a home can use a partition lawsuit to separate their interests in the property. Like most litigation, it’s an expensive way to solve a dispute.

Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.