El Dorado County Partition Lawyers

El Dorado County officially the County of El Dorado, is a county located in Northern California. What is now known as El Dorado County has been home to the Maidu, Nisenan, Washoe, and Miwok Indigenous American nations for centuries. Because of colonization, their numbers dropped severely. Today many indigenous people in El Dorado County, like the Nissenan are telling their stories and culture, praying in their languages sharing their history. As of the 2020 census, the population was 191,185. As a county with a rich historical past, many residents may find themselves co-owners of inherited property. Frequently, there are at least four common types of partitions actions for which a El Dorado County Partition Attorney can provide sound counsel:

  • Investor-Investor shared ownership of property;
  • Boyfriend-Girlfriend share ownership of property;
  • Brother-Sister shared ownership of property; and
  • Parent-child shared ownership of property
What Is a Partition Action in California?

Generally, partition is any division of real property between co-owners, where each co-owner obtains an ownership interest. A partition action is the forced sale of real property by a co-owner under the court’s supervision. Partition merely determines and allocates to the parties their respective interests in the property. (Cunha v. Hughes (1898) 122 Cal. 111.)

In the partitioning of property, the common interests in the property are segregated or terminated. (Summers v. Superior Court (Wan Fen Tan) 24 Cal.App.5th 138.) Partitions are generally favored by the and may occur by an agreement between the co-owners or by a judgment in an action. Typically, a partition may be made by either a physical division or sale of the property. in many modern transactions, a partition of the property by sale is preferable since often times, a division of the property will result in parcels that are not equal to the value of the whole property before the division. (Cummings v. Dessel (2017) 13 Cal.App.5th 589, 597.) Also, a “physical division may be impossible due to zoning regulations or may be highly impractical.” (Butte Creek Island Ranch v. Crim (1982) 136 Cal.App.3d 360, 365.) The best El Dorado County Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

First, a partition action is filed. A partition action can be filed if one co-owner of real property or a piece of real estate wishes to sell the property or piece of real estate in question but the other co-owners or co-tenants do not wish to sell their ownership rights. 

Second, the court may appoint a court referee to oversee the sale of the property in question. The sales procedure includes that all parties agree to the terms and conditions of the sale in writing. If the parties can not agree, as partition actions are usually very contested issues, then the referee that the court appointed may recommend terms and conditions to the court. Then the court will hold a hearing to decide whether or not to accept those terms and conditions. 

Third, in California, the property’s value will be appraised via a third party or another property appraisal with no ties to any of the parties. While this is not required in all states, it is recommended to make sure that all parties are on the same metaphorical page as to the potential sale proceeds of the property in question. 

Fourth, the referee will conduct the sale in the method most agreeable to all of the party’s goals. This can be via a public auction or a private sale. Regardless of the specific method of partition by sale, the court will determine if the sale was “fair.” If it is decided that the property’s sale proceeds had a lack of proper notice, the sale amount is not within reasonable the value of the property, or if the proceeds were unfair- the court would rule that the property will be up for sale again. 

Lastly, the court will order that the proceeds of the sale, minus any court litigated or approved offsets or costs, will be distributed equitably amongst all of the co-owners or people with interest in the property. A top El Dorado County Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Mediate a Partition Action?

A partition action can always be resolved informally at any time prior to the first day of trial, or entry of judgment. In fact, in numerous instances, just filing the partition itself leads the other party to seek a resolution between them. We always encourage the parties to talk throughout every phase of the process, as that can lead to the best outcomes for everyone.

From our perspective, every piece of litigation is just part of a larger “negotiation.” In any negotiation, the party who has the best leverage is usually able to achieve a more favorable outcome. The lawsuit provides the client with more leverage because they have more options available to them than without the prospect of a resolution from a judge. As such, all that a lawsuit does is provide one party with more leverage in the negotiation about how to resolve the dispute. For this reason, the best way to informally resolve a dispute is to combine discussions with active litigation, so that the matter can be quickly resolved without unnecessary expense. Throughout the process, our attorneys are in touch with our clients about their options and the prospects for informal resolution through mediation or negotiation. A knowledgeable El Dorado County Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Under the law, a property owner can make a claim for contribution for anything that they have expended for the common benefit of all the parties as it relates to their jointly-owned property. Code of Civil Procedure section 874.410 states that “the court may, in all cases, order allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustment among the parties according to the principles of equity.” For example, the credits can include expenditure in excess of the co-tenants fractional share for necessary repairs and improvements that enhance the value of the property. (Wallace v. Daley (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1035-1036.) Similarly, payments for interest, taxes, and insurance made by any co-tenant could be the subject of a reimbursement claim. (Hunter v. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24.) An experienced El Dorado County Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

Partition Case Study: Abarca v. Ferber (2011): Cherry-picking Evidence

Evidence is a vital aspect of litigation that all parties must grapple with. Occasionally, this means addressing evidence that may not be very favorable. Parties cannot simply ignore unfavorable evidence and pretend that it does not exist. It is critical for parties to acknowledge the weaknesses in their arguments and not just their strengths.

While parties should not be focusing on the weak points in their cases, they should be prepared to at least recognize these weaknesses. The best way to address these weak points is to use legal authorities and other evidence to support their side of the argument, not ignore the unfavorable evidence.

What Led This Case to the Court of Appeal?

The property at issue in Abarca v. Ferber (2011) Cal.App.Unpub. WL 175710 was a house bought by Harold Joe Ferber and his girlfriend Socorro Abarca. (Id., at 1.) Harold and Socorro owned the house as tenants in common and split the down payment equally. (Id.) The couple lived in the house with Socorro’s two daughters. (Id.) In 2004, Harold and Socorro’s relationship ended after Harold was kicked out of the house due to a domestic violence restraining order. (Id.)

Socorro sued Harold for partition by sale. (Id.) Harold cross-complained for partition, accounting, waste, trespass, chattel conversion, and trespass to chattels. (Id.)

At trial, Socorro testified that she and Harold did not have an exact agreement about how they would share expenses after buying the house. (Id.) She stated that the amounts she paid Harold depended on the circumstances of the month. (Id.)

Socorro conceded that she was responsible for her personal expenses and her daughters’ expenses. (Id.) She presented checks totaling about $100,000 in expenses she paid after she and Harold had bought the house. (Id.)

At trial, Harold showed a spreadsheet accounting based on his and Socorro’s bank records from their bank accounts. (Id.) Harold claimed that Socorro owed him about $50,000 for housing and living expenses. (Id.) The accounts Harold was using in his spreadsheet were joint accounts between Harold and Socorro. (Id.) These joint accounts were used to pay for multiple expenses. (Id.)

The trial court held there was evidence that Harold and Socorro combined their resources together as if they were married. (Id.) Their income was deposited into the joint checking account and everything that was paid from this account was not apportioned between the two. (Id.)

In 2006, the house was sold for $370,000. (Id.) At trial, the listing realtor said he believed the property’s declining condition reduced the purchase price by $30,000. (Id.)

After the sale, the trial court divided the sale proceeds equally between Harold and Socorro. (Id.) The trial court also denied Harold any relief on his cross-complaint. (Id.) Harold appealed, and the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

Abarca’s Holding: Addressing the Evidence

Abarca is a cautionary tale about ignoring unfavorable evidence. When evidence damaging to one’s case appears in the record, overlooking such evidence can be fatal.

Harold argued there was insufficient evidence that Harold and Socorro pooled their resources together after purchasing the house. (Id., at 2.) The Court of Appeal held that Harold forfeited this argument because Harold only cited favorable evidence. (Id.)

Additionally, Harold failed to cite the evidence of the joint bank accounts and other parts of Socorro’s testimony. (Id.) Harold picked only parts of Socorro’s testimony in an attempt to spin the evidence in his favor. (Id.) The Court of Appeal wrote:

“Harold has forfeited this contention because he has cited only the evidence favorable to him, which he claims is a portion of Socorro's testimony . . . Harold characterizes this testimony as showing a tacit oral apportionment agreement for each party to pay one-half of all housing-related and mutual expenses, and for Socorro to pay the entirety of her and her daughters' personal expenses. Harold, though, has neglected to mention the evidence of the joint bank accounts and the commingling of income and expenses; furthermore, Harold favorably spins Socorro's testimony regarding the purported agreement. So, Harold has not only cited just the favorable evidence, he has put a favorable spin on that evidence. That only compounds his forfeiture.” (Id.)

Next, Harold argued the trial court’s division of sale proceeds in an equal manner was erroneous, because partition law applied. (Id.) Harold claimed equitable remedies were only available under family law, domestic partnership law, or Martin agreement law. (Id.)

The trial court did not treat the situation as between married people, domestic partners, or people in a Marvin agreement. (Id.) Instead, the trial court determined the parties’ ownership interests since the lawsuit was a partition action. (Id.) Further, the trial court concluded that the parties acting like they were married was only relevant to the extent that it demonstrated the parties’ financial arrangements. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held this was proper. (Id.)

Finally, Harold claimed Socorro ousted him, which led him to his cross-complaint. (Id., at 3.) Socorro, however, did not “oust” Harold, as ousting has a specific legal definition. (Id.) To “oust” someone is when a cotenant wrongfully excludes that person from the property. (Id.) In this case, Socorro legally excluded Harold from the property with her domestic violence restraining order. (Id.) The Court of Appeal found that Harold, again, only cited favorable evidence and so Harold forfeited this ouster argument. (Id.) The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

Abarca shows the danger of ignoring unfavorable evidence. If unfavorable evidence exists, pretending that the evidence does not exist will not solve the problem. If anything, ignoring the evidence will only make things worse. Parties must be ready to at least offer another viewpoint, legal authority, or piece of evidence that can support their side against the unfavorable evidence.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help You

As seen in Abarca, addressing unfavorable evidence is oftentimes necessary in litigation. Even with unfavorable evidence, it is the parties’ responsibility to fight with their own evidence and support from legal authorities. Pretending the unfavorable evidence does not exist will do nothing to help one’s case.

Here at Underwood Law Firm, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help navigate the complex web of case law and statutes surrounding partitions. If you are trying to plan a partition order, or just have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to our office.

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