Anti-Palimony Statute Does Not Bar Claim For One-Half Interest In Property Listed As Joint-Tenant

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In Lendzyk vs.Wrazidlo, A14-1331 (Minn. App .July 13, 2015) the Minnesota Court of Appeals interpreted the Minnesota Anti-Palimony statute in an appeal involving a couple who were dating and commingled money in a new home they built. Boyfriend Lendzyk and girlfriend Wrazidlo began dating in 2006. At that time each owned a home in northern Minnesota. Girlfriend sold home and moved into boyfriend’s home with her two children. They then decided to build a home together. In 2008 girlfriend bought a lot, title to lot was recorded in her name and she financed a construction loan for the home.

After the construction was completed the parties arranged to refinance the construction loan. The loan was refinanced into joint tenancy and both parties signed a mortgage identifying them as joint tenants and girlfriend signed a quit claim deed that conveyed her interest in the property to herself  and boyfriend as joint tenants.

The relationship ended in 2010. In 2012 the boyfriend brought a partition action claiming one-half interest in the property requesting the property be sold and the proceeds be divided between the parties. Testimony was taken that since girlfriend sold her home she would initially buy the lot and pay the majority of the construction costs. After the home was built boyfriend would pay the refinancing cost and then pay for mortgage and insurance. The parties looked at and selected the lot together. Boyfriend testified that the parties agreement was to own the property together, build it together and start a family together. He was going to become more financially involved once he sold his home. Boyfriend paid $10,532 toward closing costs and made monthly mortgage payments and property insurance from 2008 to 2010, which together totaled $77,323. Girlfriend presented evidence she had put $201,171 towards purchasing the property and improvements.

Trial court found anti-palimony statute did not bar boyfriend’s claim to an interest in property and found that as joint tenants, the property should be sold and the proceeds equally divided.

On appeal the court interpreted the anti-palimony statute, Minn. Stat.  513.075, which in part provides that a contract between a man and woman living together out of wedlock is enforceable only if: (1) the contract is written and signed by the parties, and (2) enforcement is sought after termination of their relationship.  Minn. Stat. 513.076 states that unless a contract is executed complying with Minn. Stat. 513.075 a court is without jurisdiction to hear the matter and shall dismiss it as against public policy.

The court appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision citing to two other cases. In, In re Estate of Ericksen, 337 N. W. 2d 671, 674 (Minn. 1983) the supreme court held that even though cohabitants had not signed a contract detailing their financial arrangements regarding a home and it was solely titled in on party’s name, the probate court properly considered an unjust enrichment claim to a one-half interest in home where both parties equally contributed to the purchase and maintaining the home. In another case In re Palmen, 588 N.W. 2d 493 495 (Minn. 1999) two cohabitants agreed to built a log cabin together on a lot owned by Palmen.  After Palmen died cohabitant Schneider claimed an interest in log cabin stating it was agreed if their relationship ended she would be reimbursed her investment for labor and financial contributions to the log cabin’s construction. The trial court denied the claim, but the supreme court reversed holding the anti-palimony statute does not bar the enforcement of unwritten agreements between parties living together if a party can establish the agreement was supported by consideration independent of the couple living together in contemplation of sexual relations out of wedlock and that the party is seeking to protect their own property and is not seeking to claim the property of the cohabitant. The court noted under the facts in the current case the party was seeking to protect his own property and it was supported by independent consideration unrelated to the cohabitation.

Girlfriend also claimed boyfriend’s interest should not be one-half, but limited to the amount of his contributions. The court stated if a property is held as joint tenants there is a presumption of equal property interests. The court found this presumption was not overcome based on the evidence. The trial court found girlfriend’s testimony that boyfriend pressured her to put his name on deed and mortgage was not credible and that the only other evidence presented to rebut the presumption of equal ownership was that girlfriend made greater contributions to the property.  The Court upheld the trial court’s decision to equally divide the sales proceeds in light of lack of other evidence to rebut the presumption.

In any property or relationship dispute it is prudent to seek representation and advice from an experienced family law attorney.