Shared Property without Marriage
This page is about your legal rights and responsibilities when you share property with someone who is not your spouse. This is called co-ownership, or joint tenancy. A person who co-owns property with someone is called a Joint Tenant.
This information may be helpful for you to understand if you separate from a partner that you are not married to.
If you need legal advice, contact CLSMF.
WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS?
“Tenants by entirety” is a way of describing the joint ownership that married people have. This is sometimes also called “marital property with rights of survivorship.”
This means that if you are married and you and your spouse purchase property, such as a home, you are co-owners under the law and if one of you dies, the other person will automatically own the property.
In Florida, two people can hold their property as “tenants by the entirety” only if they are married at the time they acquire the property. The deed for your home should specify that you and your spouse own land as “tenants by entirety.”
However, there are other types of property ownership between people who are not married. Real property co-ownership for this situation is divided into two types: “Tenants in Common” and “Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship.”
If you are not married, but you purchase a home with another person, you can have “Joint tenancy with rights of survivorship.” This is also called “Joint Tenancy by the Entirety.”
The property is owned by Joint Tenants with the Right of Survivorship ONLY if the deed specifies that there is a right of survivorship. Otherwise, the property is held by Tenants in Common, which is explained in the next section of this page.
When you own property with Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship, if one of the co-owners dies, the property goes directly to the remaining tenants without passing through probate. Probate is when the court supervises the distribution of your property after you die, and it can take months to settle, while your family and loved ones wait. If you can make end-of-life arrangements, it is helpful for the people who must handle your estate after your death.
A Joint Tenant who has rights of survivorship cannot leave their share of the property through a will or trust because the co-owner has the right to receive their share upon death.
Property held by a Tenant in Common can leave their share of the property the same way they would if they owned a particular piece of land on their own. Without the specification for “rights of survivorship” or “entirety,” the other co-owners (tenants) do not have a special right to inherit the property if a co-owner dies.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO?
A Tenant in Common or a Joint Tenant with Right of Survivorship can sell their share of the property, either to another co-owner or to someone who is not already a co-owner (a third party.) If you are a co-owner in a Tenant in Common arrangement, you do not need the permission of other co-owners to sell your share of the property.
If you sell your share of a Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship, the joint tenancy will end and the remaining tenants will become Tenants in Common.
If you are co-owner and cannot find someone to buy your share, you may be able to request the court intervene in a “partition action.”
A partition action is a lawsuit that you file in court when you and your tenants in common (co-owners) cannot agree on how to sell your property.
More information about partition actions can be found in Chapter 64 in the Florida Statutes.