Know the Law: Dividing Jointly-Held Property

Alexandra S. Cote
Director, Litigation Department & Chair of Probate Litigation Group
Published: Union Leader
June 22, 2019

Q: I own a piece of property jointly with my ex-boyfriend and I don’t want to anymore. What are my options?

A: You have several options. If you and your ex can reach an agreement, one of you could buy out the other’s interest in the property, or you could agree to sell the property to a third party and split the proceeds from the sale. Alternatively, in the event you and your ex are unable to reach an agreement, you have the option to seek a partition of the property.

A partition is a division of jointly-held real property to create multiple individually-owned properties. In New Hampshire, partition actions are equitable in nature and are governed by statute — specifically, New Hampshire Revised Statutes Chapter 547-C.

In order to seek a partition, you can file a petition with the court. Generally speaking, you can choose to file in either the Circuit Court-Probate Division or in the Superior Court, though there are some instances where only one of these courts will have jurisdiction to hear your case.

Regardless of which court your case is heard in, the judge will have the power to divide the property, awarding one piece of the property to you and the other to your ex. If the court is unable to make a physical division of the property without significant prejudice or inconvenience, it may also order one of you to purchase the other’s interest, or order a sale of the whole property and a division of the proceeds between you.

You should keep in mind that the division — whether of physical property or of the proceeds from a sale — will not necessarily be equal. Instead, the court is tasked with making an equitable division (i.e., a division consistent with the principles of justice and right), based upon its consideration of a number of factors.

Where relevant, these factors may include, among other things: the parties’ actions relative to the acquisition, maintenance, repair and improvement of the property; the amount of time the parties occupied the property and the nature of their use; the parties’ respective contributions to the property; and any damage or detriment caused to the property by the parties. The statute also allows the court to consider any other factors it finds to be relevant.

Ultimately, absent reaching an agreement with your ex, your best option is likely to seek a partition of the jointly-owned property. If you decide to take this route, you should review the applicable statutes, court rules and case law before filing a petition. It may also be prudent to consult an attorney for further guidance with your case.