June 18, 2008

New Case Law – Domestic Partnership Asset Division

As a Portland Oregon divorce law firm, Stephens & Margolin LLP is dedicated to keeping up to date on Oregon Court of Appeals and Oregon Supreme Court opinions. As a service of The Oregon Divorce Blog, we will be providing updates as new opinions come out.

On June 11, 2008, the Oregon Court of Appeals published an opinion in Himler and Katter, in which the court further explained how unmarried domestic partners’ assets should be divided after they end their relationship.

In Himler and Katter, the question before the court was how property should be distributed following the end of a domestic partnership.  More specifically, when different assets should be valued and what should be done with appreciation of assets acquired prior to and assets acquired after the parties separated but before trial.

The parties were a heterosexual couple who lived together for 16 years and had multiple children.  The court found that the parties had intended to share their property equally.  The parties owned two pieces of real property and a large amount of personal property, some of which was acquired after the relationship ended.  The trial court determined the value of all property as of the time of trial and divided it equally.

The respondent appealed, assigning error to the trial court’s valuation of the property at the time of trial rather than the time of separation.  The Court of Appeals held that the parties did not intend to share any assets acquired after the relationship ended, but agreed with the trial court that valuing the property as of the time of trial was proper.

The Court of appeals based its valuation ruling on the laws of co-tenancy.  Under domestic partnership dissolution case law, regardless of whose name title to property is in, for those pieces of property that are partnership property, the parties are determined to be equal co-tenants.  This means that they own the property jointly.  Therefore, the parties retain an equal 50 percent ownership in the property; however, each party must reimburse the other for 50 percent of any contribution made by the other.  This co-ownership continues until the property is divided, which takes place at the time of trial.

This decision demonstrates the necessity for all unmarried people living together in a domestic partnership (whether same-sex or heterosexual partners) to enter into some form of an agreement to clearly state their intent regarding their property prior to separation.  Without such an agreement, the parties will be at the whim of the court to have their intent and the division of their assets determined.  The lawyers at Stephens & Margolin LLP can assist unmarried domestic partners in drafting such agreements and in better understanding the law in Oregon regarding dissolution of domestic partnerships.

You can review the full opinion in Himler and Katter at http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/A132719.htm

If you have any questions about Oregon appellate law please contact Daniel Margolin or C. Sean Stephens at Stephens & Margolin LLP