Olson v. Stevens

322 N.J. Super. 119, 730 A.2d 432 (App. Div. 1999)
  • Opinion Date: June 11, 1999

PARTITION; FAMILY LAW—An action for partition of real property owned by litigants in a family court proceeding should be consolidated before the Family Part to make sure that all related issues are handled in one proceeding.

A man and woman, though never married, had a sixteen year relationship and a fourteen year old daughter. They purchased a two-family home as joint tenants with the right of survivorship and lived together as a family in one of the apartments for over ten years. When discord arose between them, the man left the home and the woman remained with the child, continuing to collect rent from a tenant. The man filed a complaint in the Chancery Division, seeking partition by sale of the jointly owned home. The next day, he filed a complaint in the Family Part for joint legal custody and visitation. In response, the woman filed a palimony suit in the Family Part, seeking support for their daughter and other remedies. The two Family Part actions were consolidated. The woman moved to consolidate the partition action with the Family Part actions and that motion was denied. Three weeks later, the Chancery Division granted summary judgment, ordering a partition sale and an even distribution of the net proceeds. Complicating the matter was the woman’s assertion of the existence of an agreement which gave her a continued right to occupy one of the apartments in the jointly owned home until their daughter completed a high school program of home schooling. The Appellate Division held that the existence or non-existence of such an agreement and its precise terms should have been a material issue in the partition action. In addition, the Court held that the entry of judgment of partition was premature because of all of the other issues between the parties had not yet been resolved and because the house appeared to be the most substantial asset. Even though the woman was not entitled to equitable distribution of the assets owned solely by the man, the determination of child support obligations, support pursuant to the alleged agreement, and allocation of income derived from the jointly-owned home were seen as possibly impacting on the determination of ownership and occupancy rights to the house. Therefore, the Court found that it would both advance the objective of judicial economy and result in an effective resolution of the dispute if the partition issue were resolved in conjunction with the palimony issue. In that regard, the Court felt that the Family Part was the most appropriate forum for the resolution of all these issues, reversed the partition judgment, and remanded the matter so that the partition action could be consolidated with the other actions in the Family Part.