The Longest Divorce

Tuesday, January 26, 2016 by Elliot Schon, Esq.

This story first appeared in the New York Post

“Cristina Carta Villa and Gabriel Villa, married after a whirlwind romance in 1994. In 1999 the two bought a one-bedroom condo on West 55th Street. They  were married for 20 years, raised a son ; Lorenzo; and lived the good life jetting between their  homes in New York,  Massachusetts and France.

It was all perfect, except for one thing: He had secretly divorced her just months after their wedding, in an apparent attempt to shield his assets.

Four months after the pair tied the knot, Gabriel Villa secretly arranged for a divorce in the Dominican Republic.

Even though the couple didn’t live in the Dominican Republic, Gabriel launched the legal dissolution there. He hired lawyers to represent each spouse and cited “incompatibility of temperaments” as the reason for the split, Cristina claims in a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit.

Click Here for the Original New York Post Story

After divorcing his wife shortly after the wedding, crafty Gabriel Villa still wasn’t done trying to protect his assets. In November of 2015 Gabriel recorded a no-consideration deed granting his ownership of the West 55th street condo, as a joint tenant with Cristina Carta Villa to himself.

The wife Cristine claims her greedy husband Gabriel, was trying remove her as the owner so he could sell the condo to his adult daughter. This case is currently in court and the outcome remains to be seen.

Let us for a moment analyze what Gabriel Villa was trying to accomplish with his allegedly fraudulent Dominican divorce proceedings and deed chicanery.

When people jointly own property, the partnership can be in one of several forms of Concurrent Estate. Each form has different structure and rules

Tenants in Common

This the most common form of concurrent estate in which each owner, referred to as a tenant in common, is regarded by the law as owning separate and distinct shares of the same property.

For our discussion, one of the most importants aspects of Tenants in common, is that they have no right of survivorship. Meaning, that if one tenant in common dies, that tenant's interest in the property will be part of his or her estate and pass by inheritance to that owner's devisees or heirs, either by will, or by intestate succession.

Also, as each tenant in common has an interest in the property, they may, in the absence of any restriction agreed to between all the tenants in common, sell or otherwise deal with the interest in the property (e.g. mortgage it) during their lifetime, like any other property interest.

Joint tenancy or joint tenancy with right of survivorship.

This type of concurrent estate provides co-owners with a right of survivorship, meaning that if one owner dies, that owner's interest in the property will pass to the surviving owner or owners by operation of law, and avoiding probate. The deceased owner's interest in the property simply evaporates and cannot be inherited by his or her heirs.

The bedrock for a Joint Tenancy is that the co-owners must share "four unities":

  • Time - the co-owners must acquire the property at the same time.

  • Title - the co-owners must have the same title to the property. If a condition applies to one owner and not another, there is no unity of title.

  • Interest - each co-owner owns an equal share of the property; for example, if three co-owners are on the deed, then each co-owner owns a one-third interest in the property regardless of the amount each co-owner contributed to the purchase price

  • Possession - the co-owners must have an equal right to possess the whole property


If any joint co-owner deals in any way with a property inconsistent with a joint tenancy, that co-owner will be treated as having terminated (sometimes called "breaking") the joint tenancy. The remaining co-owners maintain joint ownership of the remaining interest.

The dealing may be a conveyance or sale of the co-owner's share in the property. For example, if one of three joint co-owners conveys his or her share in the property to a third party, the third party owns a 1/3 share on a tenancy in common basis, while the other two original joint co-owners continue to hold the remaining ⅔’s on a joint tenancy basis. This result arises because the "unity of time" is broken, because on the transfer, the timing of the new interest is different from the original one.

Tenancy by Entirety

This form of concurrent estate is  available only to married couples in which the ownership of property is treated as though the couple were a single legal person. Like a Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship, the tenancy by the entirety also encompasses a right of survivorship. So if one spouse dies, the entire interest in the property is said to "ripen" in the survivor, so that sole control of the property ripens, or passes in the ordinary sense, to the surviving spouse without going through probate.

However, unlike a JTWROS, neither party in a tenancy by the entirety has a unilateral right to sever the tenancy. The termination of the tenancy or any dealing with any part of the property requires the consent of both spouses.

Lack of Common Sense?

It is not clear what Gabriel wanted to accomplish with the November deed.

If his Dominican divorce was indeed valid then he and Cristina would have owned the condo as tenants in common which does not grant rights  of survivorship. Thus, Gabriel’s half of the condo would have passed to his heirs anyways, without any further conveyance or deeds.

However, if the divorce was not valid, then the condo would have been owned by Gabriel and Cristina as Tenancy by Entirety, and Gabriel would not be allowed to “break”  the concurrent estate by conveying his half to himself, as neither party in a Tenancy in Entirety has the right to unilaterally sever the tenancy. Some people, eh?

As with all real estate transactions it is important to have a a strong a knowledgable title company like Riverside Abstract  on your team.

Got questions about "Concurrent Estate" or other title topics? Click here to ask a title expert and get the answers you need.

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