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DeGrazia v. DeGrazia

December 16, 1999

ELLEN DEGRAZIA, APPELLANT,
v.
EDWARD DEGRAZIA, APPELLEE.



Before Schwelb, Reid, and Glickman, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

(Hon. José M. López, Trial Judge)

Argued November 23, 1999

Ellen DeGrazia (the wife) appeals from an order of the trial judge terminating the obligation of Edward DeGrazia (the husband) to pay alimony to her. The wife contends that the judge lacked authority to terminate alimony on the basis of the change in the parties' circumstances. We disagree and affirm.

I.

The parties were married in 1949 and divorced in 1970. In the original order of divorce, the trial court ordered the husband to pay the wife $200 per month in alimony. *fn1 In 1982 the court ordered an increase in alimony to $400 per month and a corresponding increase in support for the two children who remained minors; three other children had been emancipated.

In July 1996 the husband filed a motion to terminate alimony. *fn2 On June 24, 1998, following an evidentiary hearing, the trial judge found that there had been a material change in the circumstances of the parties, and that the wife was now wealthier than the husband. The judge discredited contrary testimony by the wife, noting that she had made inconsistent and misleading representations about her financial condition and needs. It was the judge's view that

considering [the wife's] holdings, only imprudent investments could return her to a position of need for alimony. It would appear that if she reaches such a point, it is she who must pay the price.

Rejecting the wife's request that her right to alimony should not be altogether extinguished, the judge concluded:

One of the greatest concerns was whether to completely terminate alimony, or simply to keep the door open by imposing a one-dollar per year award. The [c]court's research did not show any basis why such [a] door opening approach should be considered. Alimony is intended in "the interest of society generally to prevent a person, wherever possible, from becoming a public charge." Quarles v. Quarles, [86] U.S. App. D.C. [41, 42], 179 F.2d 57, 58 (1949). Society's intent however was not that the able spouse be required to guarantee alimony for the rest of the recipient's unmarried life. For example, it would seem an injustice if at a future time Mrs. DeGrazia makes some careless investments that place her in the need for further maintenance, and that society would have to call again on Mr. DeGrazia to support her.

II.

The wife's principal contention on appeal is that an award of permanent alimony "is for the life of the recipient spouse unless she marries or her former spouse dies." The wife insists that although permanent alimony, once awarded, may be modified or even suspended on the basis of a change in the financial circumstances of the former spouse, it cannot be terminated on that account. The wife has cited no authority so holding, and we are satisfied that the judge acted well within his discretion in terminating the husband's alimony obligation.

Our equitable distribution statute provides that "[w]hen a divorce is granted to either spouse, the court may decree him or her permanent alimony sufficient for his or her support . . . ." D.C. Code § 16-912 (1997). *fn3 It further provides that "[a]fter the issuance of a decree of divorce granting alimony and providing for the care and custody of children, the case shall still be considered open for any future orders relating to those matters." ยง 16-914 (a). There is nothing in the statute to suggest that an award of permanent alimony cannot be terminated if the circumstances giving rise to the need for alimony no longer ...


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