Phila. judge denies partition to ex-husband in property title case

By Jon Campisi | Nov 20, 2012

A Philadelphia judge has refused partition in a civil case involving a separated couple who

disagreed on the true ownership of the piece of property at which they once cohabitated.

In a Nov. 13 findings of fact and conclusions of law, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Frederica A. Massiah-Jackson laid out her rationale for denying partition to Keith Autry, a city resident who sought to have a home on the 7900 block of Bayard Street titled in both his and his ex-wife’s names.

During a bench trial at Common Pleas Court earlier this month, Massiah-Jackson determined that Autry, the plaintiff in the case, had been unable to establish that he had a legal or equitable right of partition to the property he once shared with Lisa V. Young.

The court record shows that the couple, who were married in July 2004, and have one child together, lived together at the Bayard Street home until the spring of 2007, at which point the two separated.

The deed and mortgage loan for the home is in Young’s name, although Autry claimed that he and his now ex-wife previously had an oral agreement that they would eventually put legal title to the home in both of their names.

A new deed was never prepared, however, and Young denied that there was ever any type of agreement to transfer or share title.

The parties separated pursuant to a Protection From Abuse Order on May 2, 2007, court papers state.

Young refinanced the property in March 2008, with the transaction completed in her name alone.

In late September 2008, Autry was evicted from the home for various reasons, including his failure to make any financial contributions, the record shows.

At trial, Autry had testified that he had lost his job in 2007, and that he was unable to complete his Master’s degree program due to the fact that he had to be hospitalized after being shot in both of his legs.

After a two-year separation, Young filed for divorce from Autry in 2009, with the divorce being finalized in August 2010.

Autry soon filed court papers seeking partition in accordance with the supposed oral agreement that he claimed had been earlier reached between he and Young.

The judge determined that in the absence of any written contract confirming the purported oral agreement, Autry was unable to meet the commonwealth’s high burden of proof to establish that an agreement by Young to transfer an interest in the home existed.

The trial record revealed that by 2006 or 2007, Autry’s financial contributions were “sporadic.”

Autry failed to contribute toward the mortgage or household expenses or repairs, Massiah-Jackson wrote.

The plaintiff also took no action toward preparing a new deed, the judge wrote.

“This Court concludes that the parties were not tenants by entireties while they were married and they are not tenants in common subsequent to their divorce,” the judge wrote.

Massiah-Jackson further wrote that while the appellate courts have determined that partition is generally an incident of tenancy in common and is a matter of right, in this particular case, “in the absence of a tenancy in common and where the Statute of Frauds precludes any modification of Defendant’s title, there is no legal basis for Partition.”

The non-jury case was heard in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court’s Civil Trial Division.

The judge’s opinion was made public this week.

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