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03/09/93 GIANNA SPERI NEGRETTI v. FELIX N. NEGRETTI

March 9, 1993

GIANNA SPERI NEGRETTI, APPELLANT
v.
FELIX N. NEGRETTI, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Zinora M. Mitchell-Rankin, Trial Judge)

Before Terry, Steadman and Farrell, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steadman

STEADMAN, Associate Judge : Appellant challenges certain portions of a trial court judgment which granted her a divorce from appellee, disposed of the parties' property pursuant to D.C. Code § 16-910 (1989), and determined child support obligations. We remand the case for further consideration and explanation of one aspect of the property division, the full rationale for which is unclear. In all other respects, the judgment is affirmed. *fn1

I.

After a separation of almost ten years, appellant sought a divorce from appellee. A seven day trial took place, with both sides represented by counsel, in which the trial court thoroughly explored the financial situations of the two parties, including past, present and future earning potential; the history and present condition of the relationship and the family; and the character and extent of the property involved. Appellant challenges the trial court's determination *fn2 of the proper distribution of property, the award of child support to be paid by appellant to appellee for the parties' then fourteen-year-old minor child who resides with appellee, and the denial of child support requested by appellant to be paid by appellee to support the parties' then twenty-four-year-old daughter.

II.

It has been settled for many years that the trial court has broad discretion in distributing property accumulated during marriage pursuant to § 16-910(b). See, e.g., Bowser v. Bowser, 515 A.2d 1128, 1130 (D.C. 1986); Hairston v. Hairston, 454 A.2d 1369, 1371 (D.C. 1983). The court must consider all factors relevant to the case before it and make its final determination based on an assessment of the circumstances as a whole. "So long as the trial court considers all relevant factors, its Conclusions will not be disturbed on appeal." Bowser, supra, 515 A.2d at 1130. After reviewing the record presented in this case, we find that the trial court's distribution did not exceed the court's broad discretion, with one possible exception.

The one area of the trial court's property distribution that raises some concern is the division of the parties' equity interest in a home on Oliver Street in northwest Washington. The trial court's findings of fact show that the parties purchased the Oliver Street home for $97,000 in December, 1978. The parties made the purchase before they had sold their previous residence on Matey Road in Silver Spring, Maryland. This led the parties to borrow some $40,000 from appellant's mother to assist them in purchasing the Oliver Street home. *fn3 The balance of the purchase price was paid with a combination of a $10,000 earnest money deposit made by appellee and a mortgage loan of $52,000.

Almost a year later, the parties sold the Matey Road home, receiving $42,870 in proceeds. *fn4 The full amount of proceeds was given to appellant for the purpose of repaying her mother's loan for the Oliver Street home and an earlier loan intended to assist in the purchase of the Matey Road home. Appellant did not repay her mother with these funds, at least not by physically transmitting such a sum to her; rather, she deposited the funds into her personal bank account. Appellant separated from appellee and moved out of the Oliver Street home in 1982.

In the trial court's Conclusions of law, it determined that the Oliver Street home was marital property under D.C. Code § 16-910(b), subject to distribution. The court concluded, after considering "the totality of the circumstances," that it was "equitable, just and reasonable that the marital home . . . be awarded to the upon payment to the of twenty percent (20%) of the current equity value in the home, less the $42,870 received by the ." *fn5 It is the offset of $42,870 -- close to eliminating the interest of appellant in the equity -- that presents the difficulty on appeal. *fn6

The court did not clearly explain the theory under which it connected the receipt of the $42,870 to the amount of equity that appellant was entitled to in the Oliver Street home. Appellant testified at trial that she kept the money only after her mother told her to do so. Appellant alleged that her mother knew that appellant would need money soon in that she was going to separate from her husband. *fn7 In its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, the trial court did not address this testimony or its effect (if any) on the court's determination. *fn8 When presented with appellant's claim in her Motion to Amend, see note 7, (supra) , that she was "penalized" by the deduction, the court only reiterated that the money had been given to appellant for the sole purpose of repaying the loan from her mother but that appellant had "utilized these monies for her own personal use and benefit." The court stated that it was

unaware of any legal or equitable theory which would support [appellant's] general entitlement to these monies, particularly, where, as here, the record is quite clear that neither provided any monies to maintain the marital home nor provided any monies to provide for the maintenance and support of the parties' two sons.

The court was therefore "satisfied that the subject offset remains appropriate."

As we had occasion to remark in another case involving the explanation of division of marital property, a trial court's "findings of fact, Conclusions of law and judgment, taken together, must present an integrated, internally consistent and readily understood whole." Bowser, supra, 515 A.2d at 1130. We cannot readily ascertain from the court's decision or its order denying the motion to amend the full reasoning for the offset of the $42,870 in the ...


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