Dividing jointly-owned real estate through a partition of land

A primer on a “petition for partition of land” in Massachusetts

When two individuals or entities own an undivided interest in property, dividing the interest may require one to file a petition for a partition of land. Under Massachusetts law, such a partition will result in a "just and equitable division" of the property.

A court-ordered partition of land takes two forms: the court may divide the property into separate parcels or the court may order the sale of the property and distribute the proceeds equitably among the owners.

The basics

The only property eligible for partition is property owned by co-tenants with a present, undivided legal interest. A court-ordered partition of land is not available to married couples who own property through joint tenancy by the entirety.

The split or division of proceeds is determined equitably. Therefore, there is a presumed 50/50 split of the property or proceeds. However, the court may divide property unequally if one party shows a greater contribution towards the maintenance, upkeep and fees associated with the property.

A partition proceeding is begun by the filing of a partition to petition in the Land Court or Probate Court department of the Trial Court.

Single-family homes and individual owners

A subdivision of land is generally impractical for single-family homes. Therefore, in situations in which two or more owners have undivided interests in a single-family home, a sale may be likely. Owners can agree to a market sale and division of proceeds outside of court. However, if the owners cannot agree, one individual can file a petition for a partition of land which will result in the forced sale of the property. The court can also order one party to buy out the other's interest.

Generally, a court-ordered forced sale will not gain the property as much as it would on the market. In such situations, negotiation between parties, facilitated by an attorney, can ultimately save money.

Partition of real estate for businesses

Businesses with commercial real estate or undeveloped land may have a more feasible situation for dividing the land into subdivisions or parcels. In such a situation, the property will be divided in as equitable a manner as possible. The court can order easements on each parcel in order to improve the equitable nature of the division.

Questions? Contact Phillips & Angley

The law firm of Phillips & Angley handles legal real estate matters throughout Eastern Massachusetts and the Greater Boston Area, and is experienced in bringing petitions for the partition of land. Contact Phillips & Angley to discuss potential legal options involved in dividing the joint ownership of real estate in Massachusetts.