The Court of Appeals in Araya v. Keleta, expanded the meaning of the marital property in the context of Civil Protection Orders and related filings.

In the case, wife-Keleta had filed a petition against husband-Araya alleging physical abuse and requesting a stay away order from the husband and from the marital home, which the trial court granted.

On Appeal, Araya argued that as the home in question was not in fact a martial property, the judicial officer was precluded from ordering him to stay away from such dwelling.  In short, the judicial officer had no authority to preclude him from entering a sole and separate non-marital property.

Specifically, the Intrafamily Offenses Act section § 16-1005(c)(4) (2001) pertaining to issuance of stay away orders provides:

(c) If, after hearing, the judicial officer finds that there is good cause to believe the respondent has committed or threatened to commit a criminal offense against the petitioner, the judicial officer may issue a protection order that:

(4) Directs the respondent to refrain from entering, or to vacate, the dwelling unit of the petitioner when the dwelling is:

  • Marital property of the parties;
  • Jointly owned, leased, or rented and occupied by both parties; provided, that joint occupancy shall not be required if the respondent’s actions caused the petitioner to relinquish occupancy;
  • Owned, leased, or rented by the petitioner individually; or
  • Jointly owned, leased, or rented by the petitioner and a person other than the respondent.

Thus, Araya contended that the residence in question and subject to the stay away order was in fact his sole and separate property, and therefore the trial court lacked the statutory authority to enter an order for him to vacate as the Statute specifically required property to be a marital home before such order may be entered.

The trial court as well as the Court of Appeals made a distinction between the statutory provisions dealing with the allocation of property in divorce proceedings, such as sole and separate property v. martial property in contrast with a dwelling shared by spouses in a Civil Protection Order proceeding.

The Court of appeal in turn held that: Araya’s proposed mechanical interpretation transferring divorce law provisions to the Intrafamily Offenses Act posits an “unduly narrow focus” of the latter Act, which we have instructed trial courts to avoid.

Thus, given the broad and liberal construction afforded to the Intrafamily Offenses Act, the Court concluded that the term marital property, as enumerated in the statute encompasses and includes the family dwelling unit, regardless of technical ownership that is, martial v. sole and separate.

In short, the equitable distribution jurisprudence relevant to divorce proceedings has no place in CPO proceedings and regardless of the property ownership – husband or wife may be ordered away and out of his/her sole and separate property when the court deems it necessary to protect the other party against domestic abuse.

Generally, the courts in civil protection proceedings have broad powers to issue short remedial orders in grand scales even intruding on property rights and ownership, issuing support orders, attorneys’ fees and restitution, inter alia.

Refer to our Washington DC Civil Protection Order Lawyer page as well Washington DC Divorce pages for more details on these and other related subjects.

Categories: Family Law.