The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has clarified a 45-year-old decision regarding the effects of a divorce on liens against property held as tenants by the entireties. In Blount v. Padgett, the Court of Appeals refined its 1976 holding in Travis v. Benson that an entry of a final divorce decree converts property to a tenancy in common allowing the court to later apportion the property.
In Blount, a judgment creditor of Mr. Padgett recorded a lis pendens against property held by Mr. and Mrs. Padgett as tenants by the entireties. Mr. and Mrs. Padgett had been separated—but not divorced—for almost two decades at the time of recordation. The Padgetts’ divorce subsequently became final by a judgment of final divorce which incorporated a property settlement agreement wherein title to the marital property was transferred solely to Mrs. Padgett.
The judgment creditor relied on the Travis decision and alleged that the divorce decree first converted the property from a tenancy by the entireties to a tenancy in common and then, separately, conveyed the tenancies in common to Mrs. Padgett. If correct, the judgment creditor’s lien would have attached to Mr. Padgett’s interest before passing to Mrs. Padgett.
The Court of Appeals disagreed. The married parties were free to determine between themselves how to equitably divide the property and there existed no obligation that the distribution be equal. As the property settlement agreement was incorporated into the divorce decree, there was no interim or intervening period in which the property became a tenancy in common. The property transitioned directly from a tenancy by the entireties to Mrs. Padgett’s sole property. The judgment lien never attached to Mr. Padgett’s tenancy in common interest as no such interest ever existed.
Jackson & Campbell, P.C. represents title insurers and insureds in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. and we strive to keep our clients and other title professionals up to date on various developments in the law. Additionally, we present no cost in-house updates of the nation’s most noteworthy cases and national trends following the spring and fall American Land Title Association’s Title Counsel meetings.
If you have any questions about this case or laws impacting real estate in and around the Washington, D.C. region, feel free to contact us. Our Real Estate Litigation and Transactions Practice Group is ready to assist.