New Jersey Appellate Division Reverses Summary Judgment in Same Sex Equitable Distribution Case

Gruber v. Rixford, N.J.Super.A.D., 2007 (unpublished opinion).

A same sex couple purchased a townhouse together, in which title was held solely in defendant’s name as was the mortgage on the property. The plaintiff expended approximately $55,000 toward the purchase of the townhouse.

After the parties broke up, the plaintiff alleged that the townhouse was a joint asset, subject to equitable distribution, giving him a 50% interest. In support of plaintiff’s position, he alleged the parties had a verbal agreement that his name would be placed on the deed.

The defendant offered to pay plaintiff $93,000 as his share of the home and testified that plaintiff accepted this pay-off. Plaintiff acknowledged that the conversation took place but denied that he accepted the offer.

The trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

On May 16, 2007, the Appellate Division reversed summary judgment for the following reasons: (1) There exists an element of ambiguity as to whether defendant was to repay plaintiff’s financial contribution or there existed a joint enterprise; and (2) There exists ambiguity over whether plaintiff’s money was intended as a loan or an investment.

In other words, there existed a genuine dispute over the nature of plaintiff’s financial contribution, and the nature of the verbal agreement.

This case raises interesting legal and social issues concerning cohabitation. In the above case, the contract cannot be defined. However, under the auspices of marriage or civil union, the contract is readily definable.