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Bought a house together. Broke up. Now what?

Falling in love and buying a home together sounds great, but if problems arise, it becomes expensive to sort it all out. Here’s why:

Pascale Vaudrin and her boyfriend, Glenn Caron decided to buy a home together in the City of Clarence-Rockland, just east of Ottawa, Ontario. They took title as joint tenants, meaning that if one passed away, the property would automatically go to the other.

In January of 2014, the parties separated and Pascale moved out of the home and wanted to sell it. Glenn continued to live there and would not agree to the sale of the home. Pascale then brought a court application for Partition, meaning that she was asking the judge to order that Glenn leave the home, that the home be sold and that she be paid back everything that she contributed to the purchase, including carrying costs. She had a lawyer represent her.

Glenn did not have a lawyer and represented himself in court. This is never a good idea. He wanted an adjournment as he wanted time to prove all of the money that he had contributed to the home, but in general he said he was not against the idea of selling the home. He would also need time to move out. Glenn also wanted to use the services of a local For Sale by Owner Company, called Grapevine, while Pascale wanted to use a traditional real estate agent, Richard Chartier of Coldwell Banker in Ottawa.

In a decision dated August 19, 2014, Master Calem Macleod of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ordered that Glenn leave the home by November 30, 2014 and that the property be listed for sale for the price of $415,000 with Richard Chartier, instead of Grapevine.

In choosing the agent, the judge stated that the agent was well qualified and noted that if they used the Grapevine company, this would be more of a “do it yourself service” which would require a lot more involvement and co-operation of both Glenn and Pascale. He stated that the listing should not be for longer than 60 days. Once the property was sold, he ordered that an accounting be done so both Pascale and Glenn received what they each contributed to the property.

Many times clients ask if there is anything they can do if they have taken title as joint tenants with their spouse and now are not getting along. The good news is that you can break a joint tenancy, without much expense, by just transferring your share in the property to yourself. This is what Pascale did before going to court with Glenn. Ask your lawyer for assistance to make this happen.

I often have clients call me complaining that they want to sell their home but their partner or spouse is refusing. If it is a matrimonial home, it doesn’t even matter if your spouse is not on title; they can still prevent the spouse on title from selling if they do not agree. This is true even if they paid no money for the house in the first place. In most cases, if there is no agreement signed beforehand, it will take an expensive court proceeding to either remove someone from the home, or get an order forcing the sale to occur.

It is best to consider having a contract with your partner signed at the time you buy a home that sets out clearly what will happen if the relationship breaks down. It will save you expensive court proceedings later.

Mark Weisleder is a lawyer, author and speaker to the real estate industry.

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