If I am on the deed to a house, can I not be given my share of the equity regarding a partition?

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If I am on the deed to a house, can I not be given my share of the equity regarding a partition?

My now ex, abusive partner and I purchased a home 7 years ago. The deed is held in both our names as joint owners with rights of survivorship. He was in the financial position to purchase the house outright for cash; there is no mortgage or other encumbrance on the property. My income is less than $10,000 year due to permanent disability. I had no funds to contribute to property purchase so it was to be considered a gift. I have witnesses but no legal documentation other than the deed. I left a stable safe living situation to move into this house with him, which I would not have dared do without some legal protection, given the near impossibility of securing housing on my low income. He owns other property which he held in his sole name, I never considered mine, only half this property in my name. He named me as beneficiary of retirement fund and other monies, which he has removed, as his right. He offered to give me $5,000 for a quit claim deed and I declined. He has now filed a partition action saying putting the house in my name was in name only and is asking for the property to be assigned solely to him. Can he truly just change his mind or is the deed binding?

Asked on August 24, 2019 under Real Estate Law, Vermont

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

Generally, when you put someone on a deed, you make them an owner--it is a real transaction, not in "name only." (The exceptions are when it can be shown that a property was deeded to someone to hide it from creditors, like putting a house in a sibling's name to protect it from a lawsuit.) As a co-owner, you are entitled to equity in the home. It is certainly possible that if he paid all or most of  the cost, that the court will take cognizance of that and give him a larger share of the equity to reflect, since it would be inequitable (unfair) for you to get a large windfall and him to get little or nothing for the money he put into the home.
For example--and this is only an example; it is impossible to predict in advance what some judge will rule--if the facts show you were romantic partners, it is plausible that he intended to gift you with half the value of the home, and therefore with half the value of what he put into the home. So, for this example, say that the house cost $200k which he paid in cash and is now worth $240k. A judge could feel that half the original $200k was a gift to you but allow him to be reimbursed for the other $100k. So in this example, if the house is sold per an order in the partition case for $240k, the judge might give him $100k back for his "share" of the original $200k, the split the remaining $140k 50-50, so you get $70k and he gets a total of $170k.
Again, this is just an example, but in my experience, the most likely outcome is that you will get a share if equity, but he will get a larger share for having put in the money to buy the home.


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