RENEE M. BROOKS
Argued: January 13, 2016
Bryan J. Kerman, of Methuen, Massachusetts, by brief and orally, for the petitioner.
Kenneth P. Doherty, of Lawrence, Massachusetts, by brief and orally, for the respondent.
The respondent, Steven Allen, appeals an order of the Superior Court (Wageling, J.) granting a petition to partition real property and for other equitable relief filed by the petitioner, Renee M. Brooks, and denying the respondent's cross-petition to partition. We affirm.
The relevant facts follow. The petitioner and the respondent lived together for approximately twenty years from 1993 to 2013, except for an 18-month period of separation in 2006-2007. They are the parents of a son who was born in 1996.
The parties met in 1991. In 1993, the respondent purchased a two-family apartment building in Haverhill, Massachusetts. The deed and mortgage were in the respondent's name only. The parties resided in one of the apartments and rented the other; the rental income covered the mortgage payments. The trial court found that both the petitioner and the respondent "performed renovations and upkeep on the property, with funding for the repairs and maintenance coming largely from [the respondent], aided by the proceeds from the mortgage." Both parties contributed financially to the household, with the respondent providing the majority of the income.
In 1995, the parties acquired land in Merrimac, Massachusetts as joint tenants, intending to build a house for themselves. That project never came to pass, however, and they sold the property in 1997.
In 1998, the parties sold the Haverhill property and purchased a house in Atkinson, New Hampshire (the Atkinson property). The deed and mortgage were in the respondent's name only. The trial court found that the money for the down payment on the Atkinson property came from the sales of the Merrimac land and the Haverhill house, and the parties' savings. The court also found that "[the respondent's] savings far exceeded the savings contributed to the down payment by [the petitioner] as [she] had remained at home during this time frame to care for their son."
From 1998 through early 2013, the parties lived together in the Atkinson home. The trial court found that it was their plan "to remain together and continue to build on the financial foundation they started in 1993." The court also found that "[d]uring this time frame, [the petitioner] had returned to school and obtained a nursing degree allowing her to gain employment as a registered nurse, " and that "both parties contributed to the maintenance of the Atkinson property and the regular functioning of the household, sharing the responsibility of the expenses of the family unit."
In 2003, the parties, as joint borrowers, entered into a home equity credit agreement secured by a mortgage on the Atkinson property. The November 1998 mortgage in the respondent's name alone was discharged. Under the terms of the credit agreement, each party was individually liable for the full amount of the credit line. The respondent, however, was in control of the credit line and he alone withdrew funds from it.
In 2007, the parties, as joint tenants, purchased a property in Northwood, New Hampshire (the Northwood property). The respondent obtained a mortgage on the property in his name only. The trial court found that at the time they purchased the Northwood property, "the parties agreed that [the respondent] would pay the mortgage and expenses on the Northwood property and the 2003 line of credit on the Atkinson property while [the petitioner] would be responsible for all of the other expenses of the Atkinson property (real estate taxes, utilities, and groceries), " and that this agreement continued until the parties separated in 2013. The trial court also found that the Northwood property, a seasonal home on a lake, "was in disrepair at the time of purchase requiring the parties to undertake substantial renovations to make it habitable. Both parties assisted in this task with [the respondent] doing the majority of the physical labor."
The parties refinanced the Northwood property several times. In 2008, they jointly obtained a mortgage, and discharged the 2007 mortgage that was in the respondent's name only. In 2009, they jointly obtained a mortgage, and discharged the 2008 mortgage. In 2010, they completed a number of loan applications, either individually or jointly, for a mortgage on the Northwood property. On the applications, the respondent represented that his monthly income was $1, 413 and that he did not own any property. The petitioner represented that her monthly income was $8, 036 and that she owned the Northwood property, the Atkinson property, and a property in Haverhill, Massachusetts. The parties thereafter jointly executed a mortgage secured by the Northwood property, and discharged the ...