DC Divorce Case Shows Importance of Knowing Other Areas of the Law

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When a marriage ends, there may be many questions. Divorces can involve a variety of legal and financial implications for both parties. What will happen to a couple’s home or other property? Who is entitled to what portion of a common bank account? Where will the children live, and how often will the other parent be able to see them? Any divorce proceeding is an inherently stressful process and many actions during marriage can have consequences later during a divorce.

A recent case in the District of Columbia illustrates how important it is to know how to deal with implications of other areas of the law when going through a divorce. In Araya v. Keleta, 65 A.3d 40 (D.C. Ct. App. 2013), the DC Court of Appeals held that two spouses, who had connected adjacent homes via a passageway, had converted both houses from separate properties into a combined marital property that could be divided by the court. In Washington, DC, property acquired before marriage is “sole and separate property” and stays with the person who acquired it. But, as the Court held, if that property is “merged” with property that is bought after the marriage, such as by building a passageway, addition, or other physical improvement, then the entire property can be distributed by the court on divorce.

So even though the husband in this case owned one of the two houses prior to the marriage—and it would have been his as “sole and separate property”—by building the passageway to a house later acquired by the parties during the marriage, his sole property became marital property subject to division to the wife.
This case illustrates how having an attorney on hand who is aware of intersections of the law can protect your interests in unanticipated events. The Gown Group prides itself in offering comprehensive representation for its clients, whether dealing with property law or family law. If you need help, contact us today.

Special thanks to Law Clerk Ehren Wade for his contributions to this post.