December 1, 2015 at 11:00 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Settlement in D.C. common law marriage case
Enrique Mendez, Miles Eric Lease, common law marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

Enrique Mendez, on left, and Miles Eric Lease at the 17th Street Festival in 2013. (Photo by Stephen Crowley)

A gay man who last year petitioned the D.C. Superior Court to affirm the existence of a common law marriage between him and his deceased male partner withdrew his petition on Nov. 9 after reaching a settlement agreement with his partner’s family, court records show.

The settlement in a dispute over whether D.C. resident Enrique Mendez was entitled to the assets of his late partner, Miles Eric Lease, on grounds that he was Lease’s legal spouse came just over two months after a judge ruled in Mendez’s favor by denying a motion by the Lease family to dismiss the case.

At stake was whether Mendez was entitled to the house that he and lease shared at 4820 Iowa Ave., N.W., for four years before Lease, 66, died of a heart attack on June 27, 2014.  Documents filed with the Superior Court’s Probate Division show that the house, which Lease owned, has an estimated value of $525,000.

Probate court documents also show that Lease did not leave a will and that his mother and sister, who are his next of kin, signed papers arranging for his niece, Jennifer Lynn McKelvey, to serve as the personal representative of the estate.

It was through an attorney representing McKelvey and the estate that the settlement agreement was reached with Mendez and his attorney, Meaghan Hearn of the D.C. law firm Ackerman Brown.

“The settlement agreement is satisfactory to all the parties involved in the litigation including Enrique Mendez and the Estate of Miles Eric Lease,” said Glen Ackerman, managing partner of Ackerman Brown, in a statement to the Washington Blade.

“The terms of the settlement agreement are confidential,” Ackerman said.

Christopher Glaser, the attorney representing McKelvey and the estate, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

At the time Superior Court Judge Kimberly Knowles denied the estate’s motion to dismiss Mendez’s case seeking a common law marriage declaration, Knowles scheduled a trial-like evidentiary hearing for Nov. 10. Witnesses were expected to testify at the hearing on whether Mendez and Lease at some point in their relationship exchanged “marriage vows” and informed others of those vows, two steps that are required under D.C. law to establish a common law marriage.

Mendez’s petition says he and Lease began a 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 fulfilled the legal requirements of a common law marriage in January 2013 when they exchanged vows to one another while on vacation in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

In her motion calling for a summary judgment ruling dismissing the case, McKelvey argued that virtually all of the property Mendez and Lease shared was owned by and listed under Lease’s name, including the house, a car and truck that the two used together for a home renovation business, and the auto insurance policy for the two vehicles.

McKelvey’s motion also points out that Mendez and Lease filed separate tax returns during the years the two were together and that each stated on the return that they were “single.” It says that although same-sex marriage became legal in D.C. in 2010, the two men did not marry.

Despite these assertions, friends of the two men told the Washington Blade earlier this year that “everyone” considered them to be in a relationship equivalent to a marriage. Mendez told the Blade in an interview in June that he and Lease planned to get married in the near future.

Mendez’s petition seeking the common law marriage declaration says Lease’s mother was not accepting of Lease as a gay son.

“Upon information and belief, Mr. Lease kept his family at arms’ length due in part to his mother’s disapproval of his sexual orientation,” the petition says.

It says that although the family was aware that Mendez and Lease were in a romantic relationship and lived together, the family “purposefully excluded Mr. Mendez from participation in planning his husband’s funeral and burial arrangements.”

Court records show that on Nov. 9, one day before the evidentiary hearing was scheduled to begin, Hearn filed a Notice of Stipulation of Dismissal With Prejudice, which asked the court to dismiss Mendez’s case seeking a common law marriage declaration. The court accepted the request. The “prejudice” designation means the case cannot be filed again.

Michele Zavos, a D.C. attorney who specializes in LGBT family law, said the fact that Mendez’s attorneys chose to drop the case clearly suggests a settlement was reached in which Mendez would receive some portion of Lease’s estate and assets.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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