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02/04/92 HAROLD L. SANDERS v. IMOGENE C. SANDERS

February 4, 1992

HAROLD L. SANDERS, APPELLANT
v.
IMOGENE C. SANDERS, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Rufus G. King III, Trial Judge)

Before Rogers, Chief Judge, and Farrell, Associate Judge, and Belson, Senior Judge.*

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Belson

BELSON, Senior Judge: This is an appeal from a judgment distributing marital property, fixing child support payments, and awarding attorney's fees in a divorce proceeding. The issues presented are whether (1) the trial court erred in calculating the amount of child support to be paid by appellant husband, particularly in ruling that a certain $2000 payment was not made for child short arrearages; (2) the trial court erred in ruling that a twenty percent interest in the family home was marital property, and in providing that the distribution of that interest to the wife should be deferred on the condition that appellant husband make timely payment of child support; (3) the trial court erred in not allowing appellant a share of appellee's pension benefits; and (4) the amount of the award of attorney's fees was proper. *fn1 In arguing the second issue, appellant husband takes particular exception to the innovative means the trial court adopted to motivate him to make timely child support payments. For the reasons we explain below, we affirm in all respects, save one. We remand this case to the trial court for the limited purpose of assigning a dollar figure to the wife's equitable interest in the marital home and providing that it take the form of an equitable lien in accordance with Yeldell v. Yeldell, 551 A.2d 832 (D.C. 1988).

I.

Appellant Harold L. Sanders (Sanders) and appellee Imogene Casey *fn2 (Casey) were married in the District of Columbia on August 9, 1974. They resided at 1255 4th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. (the "marital home"). The only child of the marriage was born on August 27, 1978. In 1984 the parties began living separate lives; both, however, remained in the marital home. On April 8, 1985, Sanders filed for divorce based upon the parties' separation for more than one year, and two months later Casey moved out of the marital home, taking the minor child with her. During the separation Casey was awarded pendente lite custody of the minor child with $300 per month pendente lite support.

The trial court's final order granting Sanders a divorce incorporated prior oral findings of fact and Conclusions of law and two written orders. The trial court awarded Casey custody of the minor child (subject to specific visitation rights in Sanders), $500 per month child support, a deferred twenty percent equity interest in the marital home, and $7500 in attorney's fees. The trial court also denied both parties' claims to alimony and Sanders' claim to a share in his former wife's pension benefits.

II.

The trial court is vested with discretion in calculating child support and will be reversed only for a clear abuse of its discretion. Plumley v. Plumley, 465 A.2d 393, 394 (D.C. 1983) (citing Moore v. Moore, 391 A.2d 762, 770 (D.C. 1978)). Our review of the trial court's order is "supervisory in nature and deferential in attitude." See generally Johnson v. United States, 398 A.2d 354, 362 (D.C. 1979). Sanders contends that at the trial in April 1988, the court should have considered the current level of his income in calculating the amount of child support. He also contends that a particular payment of $2000 he had made to Casey was for child support arrearages, and should have been deducted from the total amount of arrearages owed.

The record indicates that Sanders made it difficult for Casey and the trial court to ascertain his 1988 income. Because he failed to provide complete information, the court permissibly focused on the most recent and complete records available, which were for calendar year 1987. Moreover, the court gave consideration to available 1988 information. In calculating the final amount of support payments, the court allowed a reduction from $588 to $500 per month to take into account a slump in Sanders' income in 1988. Under the circumstances, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in considering Sanders' income as it did.

With regard to the $2000 Sanders paid Casey, allegedly for child support arrearages, the record supports the trial court's determination that the money was paid in exchange for Casey's signature on a deed to effect the conveyance of real property the husband had owned in North Carolina, and not for child support. Previously, Sanders had never paid child support directly to Casey, but rather through the court. Furthermore, in accordance with Superior Court Domestic Relations Rule 403, the trial court order had required that all child support payments, including arrearages, be made though the Registry of the Court. There is no basis for overturning the trial court's determination that the $2000 was not paid Casey as child support.

III.

Next we consider Sanders' contentions that the method of calculating Casey's equity interest in the marital home was improper and that conditioning deferral of the distribution of such equity interest on timely child support payments was impermissible.

D.C. Code § 16-910 (1989) governs the distribution of property upon the entry of a final decree of divorce. The trial court must

(a) assign to each party his or her sole and separate property acquired prior to the marriage, and his or her sole and separate property acquired during the marriage by gift, bequest, devise, or descent, and any ...


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