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A Better Partnership
August 10, 2013

COA holds that partitioning parties should be compensated for their own efforts to benefit the property, not those of their predecessors

Breaking up is hard to do, but the rules governing partition are now a little clearer.  In Silich v. Rongers, the Court of Appeals held that a trial court partitioning a property can diverge from the general court rule that each owner should get fifty percent of the proceeds only to consider benefits conferred by the parties to the action, not their predecessors in interest.  The court also held that the plaintiff was entitled to attorney fees only for filing the partition action and arranging the sale.The plaintiff nephew sued his uncle to partition the family cottage.  Although the plaintiff's mother had not always paid her share of taxes and upkeep, the plaintiff paid as long as he was the co-owner and even back paid his mother's expenses to the point where defendant became an owner.  The trial court gave the defendant uncle seventy-five percent of the proceeds from the sale to make up for plaintiff's mother's debts to the property.  But the Court of Appeals reversed because the Michigan Court Rules provide the general rule that, in partition, the parties should each get fifty percent of the proceeds. MCR 3.403(D)(3).  MCL 600.3336(2) adds that the court may consider the "benefits which a party has conferred upon the premises."  But because the statute only allows consideration of benefits conferred by "parties," the trial court erred in punishing the plaintiff for his mother's failure to pay her share of expenses before the defendant became an owner. As for the attorney fees, the appellate court agreed with the trial court that the plaintiff should recover his attorney fees only for filing suit and arranging the sale because these actions benefit all owners.  And that the plaintiff's action for personal property was not frivolous.

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