What remedy exists for the division of the residence of an unmarried couple in Virginia?
When a couple divorces in Virginia and are unable to agree on the division of their marital property and the allocation of their marital debts, either party can request the court to settle these matters under Virginia’s equitable distribution statute, found in Virginia Code Section 20-107.3 . What happens to the property of a couple who live together, but are not married? The typical remedy would be a request for a partition of the property, supported by Virginia Code Section 8.01-81. In Steenburgh v. Weaver, Case No. CR096000685-00, the Hanover Circuit Court recognized the right of the female partner to compel partition, and allotted the whole real property to her, with an award of contribution to her male partner. Although the case does not directly concern the interplay between bankruptcy and divorce law in Virginia, it does shed light on the remedies available to a couple living together without marriage.
At issue in this case was a single-family residence located in Mechanicsville, Hanover County, Virginia, which the parties had acquired on November 30, 2000. At that time, Ms. Steenburgh and Mr. Weaver were engaged in a romantic relationship, and over the next few years they resided in the Mechanicsville house and had a child together. After their relationship deteriorated, however, Ms. Steenburgh filed an action requesting partition.
According to the Hanover Court, the rule is if the property can be divided, then any co-owner can request partition. (See 14A Michies’ Jurisprudence, Partition, §19 (2008)). Furthermore, the Court used the Virginia Code in determining how the partition should be made and what to do when partition was not the best option. Under Va. Code §8.01-83, “When partition cannot be conveniently made, the court may allot the whole to any party who will take it and pay in money their respective shares to the others, it may sell the whole and divide the proceeds, or it may sell a part and divide the rest.”
In this situation, the Court held that because the property at issue was a single-family residence in a subdivision, it could not be partitioned easily, and, thus, allotment in whole was the most appropriate remedy. To determine who would receive the allotment, the Court examined the facts and established that Ms. Steenburgh had provided for the down payment of the residence in the amount of $42,000. Furthermore, the Court found that Steenburgh had provided for significant improvements and upgrades made on the property. Mr. Weaver, on the other hand, paid the mortgage and casualty insurance since the procurement of the property. Steenburgh alleged, however, that her contributions had transformed the house into a home, and the Court held that her argument was the most persuasive in why she should retain the property.
The Court concluded here that because Weaver had paid the principal in the amount of $22,109.04, his share should be compensated for the sake of fairness and equity. Furthermore, his contributions of $5,769.29 for insurance required compensation from Ms. Steenburgh. Therefore, the Court held that while Steenburgh retained the property, she had to compensate Weaver in the amount of $24,993 for his respective share of contributions to the residence.
You should consult with your Virginia family law lawyer concerning the division of property acquired in a non-marital domestic partnership.