In Sudderth v. Sudderth, the DC Court of Appeals addressed whether it was appropriate to award property in lieu of alimony.
On appeal, Mrs. Sudderth’s claimed that the trial court had erred in distributing marital property in lieu of alimony without first calculating the amount and duration of alimony to be distributed.
In short, the Court of Appeals held that there are no restraints on the trial court’s ability to award marital property in lieu of alimony, and also it is not an abuse of discretion when a trial court denies a request for alimony and yet awards marital property.
Thus, there is no reason to disturb the trial court’s order merely because the trial court did not specify an amount of alimony against which the distribution of property in lieu of alimony could be measured.
Mrs. Sudderth also unsuccessfully argued that no ward of alimony should have been ordered as parties had a low standard of living, Mr. Sudderth was well educated with marketable skills not necessitating such an award.
The Court held that there are no set of rules or formulae for determining permanent alimony, however such award will not be reversed so long as the trial court had made a fair and equitable assessment considering the particular facts of the case in light of all relevant factors, including the statutory elements.
Here, the trial court had elicited factual record establishing that parties were not equally situated either in education, in earning capacity or with assets and thus award of alimony was in fact proper and equitable given the legal elements.
Parties had also maintained a moderate standard of living as opposed to the low standard of living claimed. They were able to purchase four properties in the District of Columbia, renovate the properties, and rent several of them.
Mr. Sudderth however had no individual debts, had no income or savings, was homeless, taking loans from family members to survive, and his education did not exceed high school and some computer training.
Whereas Mrs. Sudderth had been able to afford two elective cosmetic surgeries for herself during the marriage, had accumulated individual debt from student loans and credit cards, earned a law degree, maintained a well-paying job at a major law firm, and had several retirement accounts containing significant amounts of money.
Mrs. Sudderth had also challenged the award of husband’s partial attorney’s fees from another jurisdiction.
The Court of Appeals held that the trial court’s authority to grant attorney’s fees is temporally limited in scope to “during the pendency of the action for divorce” and is purposefully limited to enabling the spouse to conduct litigation in the divorce proceedings.
Thus, the trial court’s authority under the statute cannot be extended to attorney’s fees incurred in separate actions and in another jurisdiction or in actions instituted prior to the divorce action or in post-divorce efforts.
The award of attorney’s fees was reversed as the action in question was initiated in another jurisdiction and thus not within the purview of DC Courts to award such fees.