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Sudderth v. Sudderth

December 17, 2009

MARJORIE SUDDERTH, APPELLANT,
v.
WILLIAM H. SUDDERTH III, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (DRB 2759-06) (Hon. J. Michael Ryan, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Washington, Chief Judge

Argued June 23, 2009

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, GLICKMAN, Associate Judge, and PRYOR, Senior Judge.

This appeal is taken from a trial court judgment of final divorce between appellant, Marjorie A. Sudderth and appellee, William H. Sudderth, III. Mrs. Sudderth is displeased with the trial court's distribution of certain real properties that the parties acquired during their marriage and also challenges the trial court's award to Mr. Sudderth of attorney's fees for defending against Mrs. Sudderth's original attempt to prosecute this divorce action in Nevada. Finding error only with respect to the award of attorney's fees, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

I.

Appellant Marjorie Ann Harris and appellee William H. Sudderth, III were married on October 31, 1985, in Arlington, Virginia. The marriage lasted for approximately nineteen years until the couple legally separated on May 24, 2006. The couple has no children.

During the marriage, Mrs. Sudderth, a licensed attorney, worked at a major law firm as a legal secretary while Mr. Sudderth, who during the 1980s and 1990s was a fairly successful musician and who later obtained some computer training, spent the vast majority of his time renovating and managing the real properties that the couple purchased during their marriage. Mr. Sudderth also was primarily responsible for caring for the marital home.

Because Mr. Sudderth did not receive compensation for the work he did managing the family real estate holdings or for caring for the marital home, it was Mrs. Sudderth's salary that paid for most of the couple's expenses during their marriage, including paying the mortgages on the parties' four real properties. However, when Mr. Sudderth inherited $110,000 in 2002, he helped pay some of the couple's expenses, and he used part of that money to help purchase the couple's property located on Pineview Court in the District ("the Pineview Court property") in Northeast, and to purchase individual retirement accounts for both him and his wife.

The Pineview Court property, valued at $192,333, was held by the couple as tenants by the entirety. An outstanding mortgage on the Pineview Court property for $117,597 reduced the marital interest in the property to $74,736.

In addition to the Pineview Court property, the parties acquired three other real estate properties during their marriage, all of which are located in the District.*fn1 The parties acquired property on I Street in Southeast ("the I Street property") in 1988, where they lived for some period of time while Mr. Sudderth extensively renovated it and which is valued at $514,000 although encumbered by a $121,456.25 mortgage for which both parties are jointly liable. Ultimately, the parties used the I Street property as rental investment property.

In 1997, the parties used equity from the I Street property to acquire property on G Street in Northeast ("the G Street property"), which they held jointly as tenants by the entirety. Valued at $553,572, the G Street property is encumbered by two mortgages, held solely in Mrs. Sudderth's name, for $98,543 and $24,512, respectively. This property served as the parties' marital home until they physically separated in 2006.

During the marriage, the parties also acquired property on 38th Street in Southeast ("the 38th Street property"), which was titled and carried a mortgage in Mrs. Sudderth's name alone. This property, valued between $164,000 and $183,000, was encumbered by two mortgages totaling approximately $152,000.

As part of the judgment of absolute divorce, the trial court awarded Mrs. Sudderth the G Street property and the 38th Street property and awarded Mr. Sudderth the Pineview Court property, the I Street property, and one-half of Mrs. Sudderth's retirement accounts (totaling $12,512). In making its award to Mr. Sudderth, the trial court indicated that the award was in part in lieu of alimony. Also, the trial court awarded Mr. Sudderth $1800 for attorney's fees he incurred in defending against a Nevada divorce ...


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