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Wine Country Partition Lawyers

California’s Wine Country is located north of San Francisco Bay, and includes the Napa Valley, the Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Bennett Valley, and the Russian River Valley. Viticulture has been practiced since the Spanish missionaries from Mission San Francisco Solano established the first vineyards in 1812. The region is home to almost 1700 wineries. As a popular region in California, parties often jointly own real estate. Generally, the best Wine Country Partition Lawyers usually find partition action to be the best remedy for disputing co-owners in four broad categories:

  • Family owned real estate where only one party wants to sell;
  • Former romantic partners who jointly own real estate where only one party wants to sell;
  • Jointly owned real estate where only one party wants to sell;
  • Partnership real estate where only one party wants to sell;
What Is a Partition Action in California?

A partition action is an action brought by a co-owner of a piece of real property against another co-owner, seeking to divide the property according to the respective interests of the co-owners. In order to establish a right to a partition, a party must show that they have some ownership interest in the subject property. Under Code of Civil Procedure section 872.210, any owner of an estate of inheritance, an estate for life, or an estate for years in real property where such property or estate is owned by several persons concurrently or in successive estates may bring a partition action. (CCP § 872.210.) Therefore, a co-tenant has an absolute right to partition. (Formosa Corp. v. Rogers (1951), 108 Cal.App.2d 397.) At the Underwood Law Firm, our attorneys are more than familiar with partition actions and the step-by-step process of pursuing a partition.

Generally, a partition action cannot be stopped absent a valid waiver. Virtually universally, the instances in which a court has found a valid waiver have involved some sort of written contract or adverse possession of property. As such, many parties try to stop a partition action through mediation, or a buy-out agreement. In most instances, the parties to a partition action can benefit from creative lawyering by those who are familiar with the different options for resolving real estate disputes. The best Wine Country Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

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 Wine Country Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Recover Your Attorneys’ Fees in a Partition Action?

Section 874.040 gives courts only two options in apportioning the costs and fees of partition: by ownership interest or by some other equitable apportionment. (see Finney v. Gomez (2003) 111 Cal.App.4th 527, 545 (Finney).)

Notably, appellate courts have found the statutory language of Section 874.040 to give courts broad and equitable discretion. (Lin v. Jeng (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 1008.)

This sentiment that the record must support the allocation of attorney’s fees in an amount greater than disclosed by title is echoed in Stutz, where the appellate court held the trial court erred in apportioning 100% of the attorney’s fees and costs of a partition to the respondent. The appellate court recognized that trial courts are free to apportion fees and costs in an equitable manner yet held that the record must support such an arrangement in “any manner other than according to the respective interests of the parties in the property.” (Stutz, 122 Cal.App.3d 1, 5.)

For example, where a party refuses to simply resolve the issue where the other party was willing to sell, then a court has the authority to order a different amount of fees than disclosed by title. (Forrest v. Elam (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 164, 174.) In other words, the resistance to selling the property may be a factor that a court considers in awarding attorneys’ fees in a partition action. A knowledgeable [PLACE] Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Before the sales proceeds are distributed among the parties, a court-ordered accounting will determine the charges and credits upon each co-owner’s interest. These credits are taken out of the net proceeds before the balance is divided equally. (Southern Adjustment Bureau, Inc. v. Nelson (1964) 230 Cal.App.2d 539 (“Nelson”).)

“When a cotenant makes advances from his own pocket to preserve the common estate, his investment in the property increases by the entire amount advanced. Upon sale of the estate, he is entitled to his reimbursement before the balance is equally divided.” (Nelson, 230 Cal.App.2d, at p. 541, citing William v. Koyer (1914) 168 Cal.369.)

As such, a party to a partition action must produce and gather their evidence and make sure that it is presented to the court so they can receive full credit for the value that they have added to the property. While a party may have a right to these credits under the law, ultimately, they will not be counted unless they can be presented in the proper form. An experienced Wine Country Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: In re Marriage of LeSage (2007)

Sometimes, marital dissolutions and partition actions can go hand in hand. What happens when a couple owns property together and later divorces? How does the court determine the ownership interests? How does the court determine reimbursement amounts and what a party will receive for improvements? The following paragraphs discuss how certain factors can affect a court’s determination in In re Marriage of LeSage (2007) 2007 WL 4200962.

In In re Marriage of LeSage, Joanne LeSage filed a marital dissolution petition against Michael LeSage and joined her father’s trust and trust beneficiaries to determine the respective ownership interests in the Vineyard Property. Michael then filed a complaint for declaratory relief, quiet title, specific performance, and partition, claiming that he had the option to purchase the Vineyard Property. The parties entered into a written stipulation and stipulated, among other things, to consolidate the marital dissolution action with the partition cause of action. The parties stipulated to a partition by sale and provided that the trial court would determine credits for improvements.

Michael and Joanne purchased the 65 acre Vineyard Property with Joanne’s parents. Each couple owned an undivided fifty-percent (50%) interest in the Vineyard Property as tenants in common. Each couple built a house on the property. When Joanne’s mother died, her father transferred his undivided one-half interest into his trust. When her father died, Joanne and her siblings became the beneficial owners of the Vineyard Property. The trial court found that Michael and Joanne, as community property, owned an undivided fifty percent interest in the Vineyard Property, a Bass Lake cabin, and a Paso Robles office building. The trial court appointed a referee to sell the Vineyard Property and the cabin, and Michael was awarded the office building with adjustments for Watts charges. (In re Marriage of Watts (1985) 171 Cal.App.3d 366.) Michael moved to reopen and for a new trial. The trial court denied his motions. Michael then appealed.

On appeal, the California Second District Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court. Michael contended that the trial court erred in imposing Watts charges for the exclusive use of the Paso Robles office building. Michael used the office building exclusively for 19 years for his law practice without paying rent while Joanne worked as a hospital nurse, supported the children, and paid for their college tuition.

As such, the trial court held that it would be “extraordinarily unfair” to require Joanne to subsidize Michaels’s use of the building for the 19 years that the couple were separated. Watts charges are calculated based on the reasonable rental value of the property reduced by the spouse’s post-separation mortgage payments, property tax payments, insurance, and reasonable maintenance expenses. (In re Marriage of Stallworth (1987) 192 Cal.App.3d 742, 749-750.) Thus, Michael had to reimburse for the net fair rental value, minus the mortgage payments, insurance payments, taxes, and maintenance expenses he paid. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

Michael argued that the evidence did not support the finding that the couple separated in November 1986. In his verified complaint, he alleged that the marriage was at a near end in 1980. However, in his discovery responses, Michael admitted that their separation date was 1986. Michael contended that the Bear Lake cabin was his separate property because he purchased it six years before the separation. In 1981, the couple entered into a long-term lease for the cabin with an option to purchase it. In 1992, Michael decided to purchase the cabin. Joanne agreed, but refused to sign the escrow documents that Michael prepared because she lacked trust and confidence in him. The sale was consummated by a grant deed stating that Michael and Joanne owned the cabin as joint tenants. The trial court found that California Evidence Code 662 applied, and the presumption of title controlled. The trial court ordered the cabin sold and awarded Michael with Epstein credits for mortgage payments, taxes, insurance, and maintenance costs.

In his appeal for the partition action for the Vineyard Property, Michal contended that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear the action because the trust was not served with a summons nor was an answer filed. However, Michael waived the alleged error by his stipulation to proceed with the partition action. Michael also contended that a spouse may not partition community property before entry of a marital dissolution judgment. However, the partition statutes provide for the partition of “other estates or interests in the property that may exist concurrently or successively with community interests.” In this case, the trust and its beneficiaries owned an undivided fifty percent interest in the Vineyard Property. Thus, the Appellate Court held that the trial court did not err in consolidating the partition action with the marital dissolution action.

Part of the stipulation for the partition by sale provided that Michael would receive credits for the improvements to the Vineyard Property, to be determined by the court. Michael contended that he should be reimbursed for the reproduction cost of the house he built. The home was in a dilapidated state at the time of trial. In determining the amount for improvements, the trial court found that the question was not what the buildings would cost to reproduce, but rather, how much, if anything, these structures added to the value of the 65 acres. The Appellate Court agreed and reasoned that Michael’s argument assumed that “if he built the house and allowed it to fall into disrepair during the 20 years he lived in it, that he should receive full credit for the building costs.” The test instead, is whether the house enhances the property’s current market value. (Wallace v. Daley (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1034-1035.) The trial court found no enhanced value, and the Appellate Court affirmed, holding that the judgment was supported by the evidence.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

When couples separate and own property together, a partition action can be effective in dividing and selling the property. How a court determines the ownership interests and reimbursements for improvements depends on various factors. If you are considering partition as an option, then you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic. If you find yourself contemplating a partition action, or faced with defending one, then please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C. for an initial consultation.

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