Edmund C. Fleet, Appellant,
Ericka E. Fleet, Appellee.
Submitted February 7, 2017
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
(DRB-3615-13) Hon. Robert R. Rigsby, Trial Judge
Jennifer Anukem for appellant.
S. Shaivitz for appellee.
Thompson, Beckwith, and McLeese, Associate Judges.
Beckwith, Associate Judge
Edmund Fleet appeals from a judgment of absolute divorce
entered by the trial court following a five-day bench trial.
Mr. Fleet challenges the court's distribution of a
portion of the marital home and Mr. Fleet's retirement
account to his ex-wife, appellee Ericka Fleet. Mr. Fleet
contends that in dividing the marital home, the court applied
an improper presumption of equal-rather than
equitable-distribution, resulting in an erroneous allocation
of fifty percent of the equity in the home (after deducting
Mr. Fleet's $30, 000 down payment and costs relating to
the sale of the home) to Ms. Fleet. Mr. Fleet also claims
that the court failed to consider certain facts bearing on
the equitable distribution of the home and failed to make a
finding as to the value of the home. Regarding his retirement
account, Mr. Fleet claims that the trial court erred in
awarding a portion of the account to Ms. Fleet, even though
the account decreased in value over the course of the
marriage. We agree with Mr. Fleet that the trial court's
factual findings are inadequate to support its distribution
of the marital home and the retirement account, and we
reverse and remand for further consideration.
and Edmund Fleet were married in October 2010. They had one
child, born in January 2013. In August 2013, the parties
began "liv[ing] separate and apart, without . . .
cohabitation, " and Ms. Fleet subsequently filed a
complaint for legal separation and custody. Mr. Fleet filed a
counterclaim for absolute divorce and custody. After two
years of proceedings, including an appeal to this
court and a five-day bench trial, the trial
court entered a judgment of absolute divorce. The court's
written judgment resolved a number of disputes between the
parties, including custody of their child, child support,
alimony, and distribution of property. Only the court's
findings and conclusions relating to the marital home and to
Mr. Fleet's retirement account are at issue in this
The Marital Home
most of the marriage, including a number of months after the
parties were legally separated, the parties lived
together-with their child and Ms. Fleet's child from an
earlier marriage-in a house in Southeast Washington, D.C. Mr.
Fleet had purchased the home in January 2010, nine months
before the marriage, and the title was solely in Mr.
Fleet's name. Mr. Fleet financed the purchase with a
mortgage, and he made a $30, 000 down payment. Before and
during the marriage, Mr. Fleet was solely responsible for the
mortgage and all other expenses related to the home. Mr.
Fleet testified at trial that he covered some of the expenses
associated with the home using funds-eventually totaling $50,
000-that he borrowed from his mother. Ms. Fleet lost her job
five months into the marriage and was still unemployed at the
time of the divorce trial in 2015. According to the trial
court's summary of the testimony, she contributed by
"maintaining the household, caring for the minor child
and paying household expenses with funds earned by [Mr.
Fleet] and by [Ms. Fleet] while she [was still employed] . .
. and while she collected unemployment thereafter."
"[B]oth parties contributed to the cooking, cleaning,
laundry, and care of the minor child during the
week before the parties separated in August 2013, Mr. Fleet
deeded the marital home to himself and Ms. Fleet, as tenants
by the entirety. When asked at trial why he added Ms.
Fleet's name to the title, Mr. Fleet explained that Ms.
Fleet "kept pressuring [him] to do so and [that] [he]
finally acquiesced . . . [i]n order to keep peace in the
house." In hindsight, Mr. Fleet believed that Ms. Fleet,
a former paralegal, convinced him to add her name as part of
a "methodical and thought out" "exit strategy
from the marriage." In her testimony, Ms. Fleet
explained the decision process somewhat differently:
We had just had the baby and I wanted to establish some
stability for the baby of course and there was an incident
where we had had guests over and I was in charge of paying
the bills and I paid the water bill and I don't think I
paid enough of the water bill. So, they shut the water off
and it was embarrassing. . . . I couldn't transact
business because my name wasn't on any of the utilities
and so, with it being the water company[, ] the owner of the
property is responsible for the water bill. . . . You know
this is my house too. I think we are going to have to change
that. I am going to have to get my name on the deed . . . .
it was Ms. Fleet who reached out to the "title company .
. . and paid them a flat fee to . . . have the documents
judgment of divorce, the trial court found that Mr.
Fleet's act of "add[ing] [Ms. Fleet's] name to
the title of the marital home indicat[ed] an intention that
[Mr. Fleet] wanted [Ms. Fleet] to share in the ownership of
the marital home." "Consequently, " the court
awarded Ms. Fleet "50% of the value of the mar[it]al
home minus the $30, 000 that [Mr. Fleet] paid for the down
payment" and costs relating to the sale of the home. The
court ordered the home to be sold, reasoning that "[a]
sale . . . will allow Mr. Fleet to recover his original
investment of $30, 000, empower ...