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Primus v. Primus

March 08, 2001


Before Terry and Farrell, Associate Judges, and Gallagher, Senior Judge.

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

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

(Hon. George H. Goodrich, Trial Judge)

Argued January 2, 2001

Opinion for the court by Assoiciate Judge Terry.

Concurring opinion by Associate Judge Farrell at p. 8.

William Primus sought and obtained a divorce from his wife, Betty Primus, on the ground of separation for one year without cohabitation. On this appeal, he challenges that part of the divorce decree ordering him to pay alimony in the amount of $500 a month. Mr. Primus argues that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding alimony because the award was not supported by substantial evidence and, alternatively, that the trial court did not make sufficient findings to support the award. We hold that there was substantial evidence of record to support some award of alimony, but we agree with Mr. Primus that the trial court's findings were insufficient. We therefore remand the case to the trial court with instructions to clarify how it arrived at the $500 figure.


William and Betty Primus were married on August 17, 1963. Over the course of the marriage, each party contributed substantial resources to the education of their three children and the maintenance of the family household. *fn1 In doing so, the parties accumulated significant debt, primarily in the form of mortgages on two homes obtained during the marriage, one in New Jersey and one in the District of Columbia. At the time of trial, the monthly costs for the New Jersey home were approximately $2,300 in mortgage payments and $400 in taxes and insurance. These costs were offset by approximately $1,300 in income derived from renting the property. The total monthly payments on the District of Columbia home were between $2,000 and $2,100. Although Mrs. Primus was living in the District of Columbia home, she was responsible for the payments associated with the New Jersey home, while Mr. Primus was responsible for the payments associated with the District of Columbia home. *fn2

Mrs. Primus has an associate's degree in medical technology and, at the time of trial, was employed as a medical technician with an annual income in 1998 of approximately $37,000. Mr. Primus has a master's degree in marketing and planning and in 1998 earned approximately $62,000 as president and chief executive officer of a charitable organization in New Jersey. *fn3 It was also established that Mr. Primus had approximately $11,000 in an individual retirement account (IRA) and owned life insurance policies on each of the couple's three children. Both parties were in their late fifties and in good health. The evidence further showed, however, that the parties' monthly expenses exceeded their monthly incomes. Mr. Primus testified, and his financial statements reflected, that his expenses exceeded his income by $180 per month. Mrs. Primus' monthly expenses exceeded her monthly income by nearly $1,400.

The trial court found that Mr. Primus had engaged in questionable activity with respect to some of the marital property and that he had actively dissipated some of the parties' marital assets. Some of these assets were apparently given to a woman living in Frederick, Maryland, with whom Mr. Primus had developed an ongoing relationship of which Mrs. Primus was, for a long time, unaware.

The trial court granted an absolute divorce and distributed the marital property, awarding to Mrs. Primus the District of Columbia home and to Mr. Primus the New Jersey home and the rent derived from it. *fn4 The court made no findings as to the parties' net income or monthly expenses. Each party was required to pay all expenses and debts - mortgage, taxes, and insurance - associated with the home awarded to that party, and all the debts listed on each one's financial statement were ordered to be paid by that party without contribution from the other. *fn5 Finally, the court awarded alimony to Mrs. Primus in the amount of $500 per month, along with attorney's fees of $2,500. *fn6

In its conclusions of law, the trial court stated:

Employment is [the parties'] only source of income. Mr. Primus has a master's degree and earns more than twice what Mrs. Primus earns now or is likely to ever earn, given her age and vocational level as a medical technician. As such, Mrs. Primus will have less of an opportunity for future acquisition of assets and income. She will need assistance to continue to live in the family home [in the District of Columbia] and meet her debt obligations. There is an insufficient ...

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