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08/14/91 MARY F. EALEY v. CHARLES F. EALEY

August 14, 1991

MARY F. EALEY, APPELLANT
v.
CHARLES F. EALEY, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Curtis E. von Kann, Trial Judge

Rogers, Chief Judge, and Steadman, and Farrell, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rogers

Appellant Mary F. Ealey (the wife) appeals from a judgment of absolute divorce to appellee Charles F. Ealey (the husband) on the grounds that the trial Judge abused his discretion by failing to award her permanent alimony and by denying her an equitable interest in the marital home based on her homemaker services for twenty-three years. Because the trial Judge's findings and Conclusions, and orders, do not explicitly address the wife's request for alimony, a potentially important issue for the wife, we must remand for express consideration of her request. With regard to the wife's claim to an equitable interest in the marital home, we find no abuse of discretion.

I.

The parties were married in the District of Columbia on January 25, 1965, and separated on May 12, 1988. There are no children from the marriage, although from prior marriages the wife has a son and the husband has three children. Upon their marriage the wife moved into the husband's home at 525 Roxborough Place, N.W. which he had purchased in 1958. The husband had made a minimum down payment on the house and signed a first and second trust prior to the marriage. During the marriage the husband paid approximately $15,000 to pay off the trusts and taxes. The $15,000 came from various investment accounts that the husband had opened prior to the marriage. *fn1

The husband, age 72, retired from the General Services Administration in 1982. His sources of income include a pension of $900 a month, social security benefits of almost $400 a month, and income from investment accounts totaling $84,000. He also has a life interest in the marital home and was living rent free with one of his children. *fn2

The wife, age 51, was working at the time of the marriage as a nurse's aide. She stopped working full time a year or two thereafter when she was involved in an automobile accident, and she is unable to do full time work. *fn3 Since then she has done occasional baby-sitting and has generated little income. Some of the baby-sitting money she used to purchase household items, such as linens, lampshades and curtains; the remainder she placed into a savings account, which at the time of the parties' divorce amounted to $2,200. At some point during the marriage, after the husband and the wife had begun drinking together, the wife developed a serious drinking problem; the husband was forced to stop drinking due to a diabetic condition. The wife also has a degenerative eye condition and a possible heart condition.

On September 30, 1988, the wife filed for support and maintenance, requesting pendente lite relief. A support order was entered on October 18, 1988, for $500. The husband answered, counterclaimed for a legal separation, and filed a supplemental complaint for absolute divorce. The wife answered and filed a counterclaim for a limited divorce on the grounds of desertion and cruelty. In her memorandum of points and authorities, filed June 16, 1989, she sought $750 in monthly support, of which she wanted $425 to come from the husband's pension benefits. She also sought an equitable share in the marital home equal to 50 percent of the appreciated value of the home during the marriage as well as 50 percent of all marital property. In support of her equitable claim, she relied on her 23 years of housekeeping, maintenance, and upkeep of the marital home, citing Yeldell v. Yeldell, 551 A.2d 832 (D.C. 1988). She also requested that the court assign a monetary value to the value of her lien. *fn4

Concluding that the wife was "less well situated financially" than the husband, the trial Judge awarded the wife (1) a 50 percent interest in the portion of the husband's pension that was marital property, equivalent to a 34 percent interest in the entire pension; (2) a one-third interest in the investment income of $50,000, or $16,667, generated over the course of the marriage, concluding that the wife was not entitled to a one-half interest since, unlike her contributions to the pension, she had made no contributions; (3) her savings account of $2,200; and (4) maintenance of her health insurance premiums by the husband and designation of her as the beneficiary of the husband's annuity under the U.S. Civil Service Retirement System, in accordance with the Civil Service Retirement Spouse Equity Act of 1984, Pub. L. No. 98-615, 98 Stat. 3195 (1984) (codified at 5 U.S.C. § 8331 (1988)). This left the husband with 100 percent of the marital home, including its furnishings, 66 percent of his pension, social security of almost $400 a month, and two-thirds of the present value of his investment accounts. The Judge denied the wife's requests for $2,000 for new furniture, for payment of her attorney's fees by the husband, and the Judge did not specifically address alimony for the wife nor the wife's request to be designated as the sole beneficiary on the husband's life insurance policy.

The Judge also denied the wife any interest in the marital home on the ground that the wife's non-monetary contributions to the maintenance of the home were "quite modest" and not substantial enough either to transform the house from the sole and separate property of the husband under D.C. Code § 16-910 (a), to marital property under D.C. Code § 16-910 (b), or to entitle the wife to an equitable interest in the house under § 16-910 (a). With respect to the wife's contributions towards the marital home, the trial Judge found that:

[the wife] made quite modest contributions toward the maintenance and improvement of the Roxborough house. She and her son Steven painted some of the rooms, and she planted some of the flowers and a rose bush, I believe, in the yard. Major repairs for the house, however, a new roof at one point and a back porch, were paid for by [the husband]. * * * [The wife] also did some work during the marriage as a homemaker. She did some grocery shopping, some cooking, did the laundry from time to time, did a certain amount of house cleaning. As the years went by, she seemed to do less and less of this, partly because she has a serious drinking problem and was intoxicated a good deal of the time. And when she became intoxicated, she did not perform these chores very well and she also became somewhat belligerent.

The Judge also found that the wife made no financial contribution to the home, such as paying the mortgage or property taxes. He found that the $15,000 withdrawn from the husband's investment accounts during the course of the marriage to pay off the trusts and taxes did not come from the wife's one-third share in the income from these accounts, but from the $50,000 that the husband had invested in the accounts prior to the parties' marriage. In the absence of either substantial maintenance or monetary contributions, the Judge concluded that the wife was not entitled to an equitable or legal interest in the home.

The wife filed a motion to modify the judgment of absolute divorce on the grounds that the monetary awards would not prevent the wife from becoming a public charge within months; the motion stated that the Judge's order would leave the wife with only $13,121.67 for her future use. An accompanying proposed order sought payment by the husband of one-half of the wife's attorney's fees and monthly alimony of $150.00. The Judge ...


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