In a two-page ruling and order, Judge Kimberley Knowles said she found that “a genuine issue exists regarding a material fact” over whether the relationship between D.C. resident Enrique Mendez and his partner of more than four years, Miles Eric Lease, constituted a common law marriage.
Mendez filed the petition last December with the court’s Domestic Relations Branch as part of an estate dispute with Lease’s family, which is being represented by his niece, Virginia resident Jennifer Lynn McKelvey.
At stake is Mendez’s contention that as Lease’s legal spouse, he is entitled to his deceased partner’s assets, including the Northwest Washington house that the two shared for four years.
Lease, 66, died unexpectedly of a heart attack on June 27, 2014.
Through her attorney, McKelvey contends that Mendez’s petition fails to provide sufficient evidence that he and Lease were in a relationship equivalent to marriage under D.C. law.
Knowles noted that each side has presented conflicting facts over whether the two men exchanged “marriage vows” and informed others of those vows, two steps that are required under D.C. law to establish a common law marriage.
In denying the estate’s motion for summary judgment to dismiss the case, the judge said the conflicting facts would have to be hashed out at a trial-like evidentiary hearing she scheduled for Nov. 10.
Meaghan Hearn, an attorney with the D.C. law firm Ackerman Brown, who’s representing Mendez, declined to comment on the court ruling, saying the matter remains an on-going case before the court. Christopher Glaser, McKelvey’s attorney, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Mendez’s petition says he and Lease began their romantic relationship in February 2010. It says the couple “took the next step in their romantic relationship” in July of that year when Mendez moved from New York City to D.C. to live in Lease’s house.
“The couple immediately began residing together at 4820 Iowa Ave., N.W., sharing living expenses and jointly contributing to the household,” the petition says.
It says the two men fulfilled the legal requirements of common law marriage in January 2013 when they exchanged vows to one another while on vacation in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. According to the petition, the couple “presented themselves as spouses or ‘partners’ to friends, family and neighbors throughout the duration of their marriage.”
Court records show that Lease did not leave a will and that the court approved McKelvey as the personal representative of the estate shortly after Lease’s death. She assumed that position, which is similar to an executor of an estate, following the submission of affidavits by Lease’s mother and sister — the two next of kin — waiving their rights to be named personal representative.
In her motion for summary judgment seeking to have Mendez’s petition dismissed, McKelvey argues that virtually all of the property Mendez and Lease allegedly shared was owned and listed under Lease’s name, including the house, a car and truck that the two used together, and the auto insurance policy for the two vehicles.
It also points out that the two filed separate tax returns during the years the two were together and that each stated on the return that they were “single.” In addition, it says that although same-sex marriage became legal in D.C. in 2010, the two men did not marry.
“While Mendez and Lease may have intended to become married in the future, there is legally insufficient evidence to establish that a [common law] marriage had actually occurred,” McKelvey’s motion states.
In subsequent court filings and a deposition, Mendez identifies friends and family members whom he says he and Lease told of their vows and that the couple was widely known among their circle of friends in Washington to be in a relationship equivalent to marriage.
Mendez’s petition for a common law marriage declaration is believed to be only the second such petition filed in D.C. since same-sex marriage became legal in 2010. Local attorney Michelle Zavos said she knows of just one other such petition and in that case the court approved a same-sex common law marriage declaration.