What is a Partition Referee?

It’s unfortunate but true: conflicts arise constantly over property, especially real estate.Partition Referee-1

This conflict could take place between a couple who is divorcing, co-owners of a failing business, siblings having to deal with a joint inheritance of real property, or any other group of people who have legal claims to the same property.

In these circumstances, a court may choose to appoint a partition referee to manage the sale and distribution of funds.

A referee is a neutral, court-appointed third party who steps in to carry out the orders of a court. These referees play an important role in California’s legal system, especially when property conflict proves to be unresolvable without legal action. 

How Does a Partition Referee Implement the Partition Remedy?

To understand the responsibilities of a partition referee, it is important to first understand the partition action itself. 

In a partition action, a court confirms that one or more co-owners of a property have the right to petition for said action. It is, in essence, a lawsuit in which one co-owner forces the other co-owner(s) to cooperate with the sale or division of their jointly owned property. 

In this scenario, the referee can: 

  • Collect rents for the duration of the legal conflict
  • Hire inspectors to determine the condition of the property
  • Hire a realtor or serve as a realtor to list the property for sale
  • Negotiate the sale 
  • Collect the proceeds from the sale and distribute them according to the orders of the court

These responsibilities allow the referee to ensure equality when the property is sold. If one party has been delinquent in paying rent or other income to another, then the delinquent party will not receive an equal portion as the one who is owed back payments. 

This is called the accounting phase of the partition action, and it is governed by the California Code of Civil Procedure, section 827.140. The code states that courts may “order allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustment among the parties according to the principles of equity.” 

There are two commonly used strategies for determining the amounts that the disputing parties should receive. 

Option 1: The parties may file briefs with the court that outline their claims and evidence for the distribution of proceeds

Option 2: The parties may submit those briefs directly to the referee, who then makes a recommendation to the court

How Do You Know If You Need to Request a Partition Referee

If you are facing a dispute that feels unresolvable, no matter how hard you have tried, you may need to file a partition lawsuit. 

This often happens in the following circumstances:

  • When there is no discernible path forward regarding a shared property
  • When there are unresolvable disagreements about the division of inherited real estate assets
  • When a divorcing couple must also divide up business assets or shared commercial property
  • When a business partnership has failed and communication has broken down, whether the business is successful or unsuccessful
  • When one or more parties have been accused of mismanagement of funds 
  • When one or more parties have demonstrated an unwillingness to care for and maintain the property 

Partition Referee vs. Court-Appointed Receiver

Individuals who serve as receivers often also serve as partition referees. But is a receiver the same as a referee?

There are several similarities between these two positions and a few key differences. 


  • Both are appointed by a judge as a means of resolving a legal dispute
  • Both have the authority to manage the sale of a disputed property
  • Both can distribute funds equitably to involved parties


  • Referees are governed by CA Code of Civil Procedure 873.510, which does not apply to all receivers
  • Receivers have broader responsibilities than referees, including management of assets beyond real estate (i.e. businesses, intellectual property, etc.)

How Long Does It Take to Get a Partition Referee Appointed? 

Getting a referee appointed usually takes some time. This may take several weeks or even several months after the partition action is filed. 

The California court system must go through the following steps before the referee can step in and take any action. 

First, the court has to confirm that the complainant has the right to partition. This is done through one of three methods: a trial, a summary adjudication process, or stipulation. 

Second, the court makes an interlocutory judgment determining the interests of each party. At this point, the court orders the partition of the property. This is usually when the manner of partition is determined. 

Griswold Law – Serving the California Courts as an Experienced Partition Referee 

Richardson “Red” Griswold serves as both a receiver and a partition referee in the state of California. Combined, he has been appointed to more than 190 legal conflicts to serve as a neutral third party. 

To learn more about partition referees and the role Mr. Griswold plays in resolving disputes, download our free whitepaper: A Guide to the Partition Action Process, from Beginning to End. 


Download the Whitepaper


If you are an attorney with questions about how you can ensure an equitable division of assets for your client, reach out to us today with your questions. 

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