In April 2004, Frederick Ormsby and Amber Williams started a romantic relationship. Within a month, Frederick moved into Amber’s house, which she had received through her divorce settlement, and in July they became engaged. After moving in, Frederick began making mortgage and property tax payments, soon paying off the remaining mortgage balance of approximately $310,000. In return, Amber gave Frederick title to the house by signing a quitclaim deed that was recorded on December 15, 2004.
The romance began to cool in January when Frederick’s anticipated divorce did not occur. The couple called off marriage plans but continued to live together in the house until March, when, after a disagreement, Amber moved out. On March 24, 2005, the two signed an agreement to immediately sell the house and allocate the net proceeds, with the first $324,000 paid to Frederick to reimburse him for what he had already paid, and anything over that amount would go to Amber. Both parties agreed to share costs equally to maintain the house, and Amber assumed responsibility for real estate taxes.
As winter turned into spring — and before the house could sell — the romance heated up again; the couple tried to reconcile and attended couples counseling.
However, Amber refused to move back into the house unless Frederick granted her an undivided half-interest in it. On June 2, 2005, they signed a second document ostensibly making them equal partners in the house, entitled to equal shares in the event of a split. The new agreement also required Frederick to pay all expenses, taxes, and insurance costs.
What could possibly go wrong?
By April 2007, they were living in separate areas of the house, and although they tried counseling again, Amber ended the relationship in September 2007. The two continued living separately under the same roof until Frederick left in April 2008.
One month later, Amber filed suit against Frederick, seeking a court order forcing him to comply with the June 2005 agreement that vested her a half-interest in the house, or alternatively damages stemming from breach of that contract.
Frederick countersued, claiming he did not owe Amber any damages because both the March 2005 and June 2005 documents were invalid contracts because Amber gave no “consideration” — a legal term referring to the benefit that each party receives or expects to receive when entering into a contract.
Amber argued she did give Frederick valuable consideration, stating “I didn’t pay him anything, no. I thought what was of value was the fact that we were sharing all sorts of things. He had my love. I shared my assets with him, too. We were living together as a couple.”
How Would You Rule?
The trial court didn’t buy Amber’s argument, ruling that the June 2005 agreement which gave Amber half-interest in the home was invalid. She appealed to the Ohio Ninth District Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court’s judgment, concluding that the agreement was valid since “romantic relationships typically involve some sacrifice by each partner.”
The story didn’t end there, however. The Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the appeals court judgment and ruled in Frederick’s favor. The court found that resuming a romantic relationship did not constitute valuable consideration — both parties must agree to offer something of value.
Bottom line for unmarried couples: To protect your relationship — and your assets — decide how you’ll own the property and check with a lawyer.
– Williams v. Ormsby, 2009
Featured image: Shutterstock
This article is featured in the January/February 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor and features from our archives.