Can I Force a House Sale In Divorce?

  • Forcing the sale of a home via partition action
  • What happens in a partition action?
  • Can the house be sold without going to court?

One of the most contentious aspects of divorce is often the division of marital assets. Among these assets, the family home often holds the highest emotional and financial value. Can there be a forced sale of the marital home?

Forcing your spouse to sell via partition action

Several factors can prompt one spouse to take legal action to force the sale of a house in the wake of divorce. These may include:

  • Disagreement over the value of the home and the subsequent division of proceeds
  • One spouse's unwillingness or inability to buy out the other's share
  • Financial constraints that make maintaining joint ownership unfeasible
  • Conflicting plans for the property, such as one spouse wanting to rent it out while the other prefers to sell

When a divorcing couple’s negotiations fail to resolve these disputes, a partition action may become the only viable option.

What is a partition action?

A partition action is a legal remedy available to co-owners of real property who cannot agree on the management, use, or disposition of it. It allows the court to intervene and order the division or sale of the property to ensure a fair distribution of its value among the owners.

There are two types of partition actions:

  1.  Partition in kind: This involves physically dividing the marital property into separate portions, with each co-owner receiving a distinct share. However, this is rarely applicable to residential properties, as it would involve splitting the house into separate units.
  2.  Partition by sale: In this scenario, the court orders the sale of the property, and the proceeds are divided among the co-owners according to their ownership interests. This is the most common form of partition action in cases involving marital homes.

What happens in a partition action?

Filing the complaint or petition

The partition action begins with one co-owner filing a complaint or petition with the court requesting the sale of the property and the division of proceeds. This document should detail the nature of the dispute, the parties involved, and the ownership interests of each co-owner.

Serving the other co-owner

The other co-owner must be served with the complaint and given an opportunity to respond. They can either agree to the partition action or contest it by presenting their arguments and evidence.

Court's determination

After reviewing the case, the court will decide whether a partition action is warranted. If the court agrees to proceed, it will typically order a partition by sale, as this is the most common method for handling residential properties.

Appointment of referee or commissioner

The court will appoint a referee or commissioner to oversee the partition action. Their role is to manage the sale of the property and ensure that the proceeds are fairly distributed after the sale of the house.

Property appraisal

The referee or commissioner arranges for an appraisal of the property to determine its fair market value. This valuation helps inform the minimum acceptable sale price and guides the referee or commissioner in recommending the best method for selling the property.

Property sale

Based on the referee or commissioner's recommendation, the property may be sold through public auction, private sale, or listing with a real estate agent. The chosen method should maximize the sale price and ensure a fair distribution of the proceeds.

Division of proceeds

Once the property is sold, the referee or commissioner distributes the proceeds among the co-owners according to their respective ownership interests. This distribution will occur after deducting the costs associated with the sale (e.g., appraisal fees, real estate agent commissions) and any outstanding liens or debts against the property.

Finalizing the partition action

After the proceeds have been distributed, the referee or commissioner will file a report with the court detailing the sale process and the division of proceeds. The court will then review the report, and if everything is in order, finalize the partition action, effectively dissolving the co-ownership of the property.

Can a sale be accomplished without going to court?

While a partition action can be an effective way to resolve property disputes, it can also be a lengthy and costly process. Fortunately, there are alternative options that can help co-owners achieve the goal of selling the property without resorting to court intervention.


Mediation is a voluntary dispute resolution process where a neutral third party, known as a mediator, assists co-owners in reaching an agreement on the sale of the property. The mediator does not make decisions or impose solutions. Rather, they facilitate communication, help clarify issues, and guide the parties toward a mutually acceptable resolution.

Collaborative approach

In a collaborative approach, each co-owner retains their own attorney. All parties work together to reach a resolution. This process encourages open communication, information sharing, and problem-solving to find a mutually agreeable solution.


Direct negotiation between co-owners can lead to an amicable resolution without the need for court intervention. This approach involves open communication, compromise, and a willingness to work together.

Suggested: Askers vs. Guessers: Understanding Negotiation Styles

Regardless of the alternative dispute resolution method chosen, it is crucial to draft a binding settlement agreement to ensure the enforceability of the agreed-upon terms. This document should include the following:

  • A clear description of the property
  • The agreed-upon sale process (e.g., listing with a real estate agent, private sale, or auction)
  • The allocation of expenses related to the sale (e.g., appraisal fees, real estate commissions)
  • The division of proceeds among the co-owners
  • Any other relevant provisions, such as addressing outstanding liens or debts against the property

Both parties should have their respective attorneys review the settlement agreement before signing, and it may need to be filed with the court to ensure its enforceability.

Suggested: Private Mediation Pros and Cons

Of these approaches, mediation is often the most effective in resolving disputes and indecision. Hello Divorce offers cost-effective mediation plans to support you through your divorce and negotiation process, guiding you to a suitable resolution.

The marital home is often a couple’s most valuable asset. Get more information from these articles:

Divorce Real Estate Expert
Divorce Insights
With more than two decades of residential lending experience and in-depth Home Equity Investment (HEI) comprehension under his belt, Chris brings a significant amount of industry expertise to Hello Divorce. As an industry leader, he has been a source of information for numerous high-profile publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Thomson-Reuters, US News, and World Report.