Frazelle-Foster v. Foster

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Citation250 Md.App. 52,248 A.3d 1089
Docket NumberNo. 2716, Sept. Term, 2018,2716, Sept. Term, 2018
Parties Donna FRAZELLE-FOSTER v. Preston H. FOSTER, Sr.
Decision Date31 March 2021

250 Md.App. 52
248 A.3d 1089

Preston H. FOSTER, Sr.

No. 2716, Sept. Term, 2018

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

March 31, 2021

Submitted by: Ayo M. Stevens (Law Offices of Ayo M. Stevens, LLC, on the brief), Upper Marlboro, MD, for Appellant.

No submission on behalf of appellee.

Panel: Fader, C.J., Leahy, Glenn T. Harrell, Jr. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

Leahy, J.

This appeal emanates from a divorce proceeding initiated in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County by Donna Frazelle-Foster against Preston H. Foster, Sr. Following a hearing, the circuit court denied Donna's1 complaint for absolute divorce, or, in the alternative, for limited divorce on grounds of cruelty of treatment and constructive desertion. Donna filed a timely appeal. The circuit court, she claims, erred by denying her complaint for absolute divorce on the ground of cruelty of treatment.2

248 A.3d 1090

We vacate the judgment of the circuit court. We conclude that the court failed to consider the more recent and more inclusive standards required to prove cruelty of treatment as a ground for divorce under Maryland Code (1984, 2020 Repl. Vol.), Family Law Article ("FL"), sections 7-102(a)(1) and 7-103(a)(6). We hold that "cruelty of treatment" as a ground for limited or absolute divorce does not require physical violence or the threat of physical violence, and may be based upon verbal and psychological abuse which "is calculated to seriously impair the health or permanently destroy the happiness of the other." Das v. Das , 133 Md. App. 1, 33, 754 A.2d 441 (2000) (quoting Scheinin v. Scheinin, 200 Md. 282, 289, 89 A.2d 609 (1952) ).


Donna and Preston first married in North Carolina in 1982 and moved to Maryland that same year. They divorced in Maryland in 1988. Three years later, Donna and Preston remarried and have lived in Maryland throughout their second marriage. They have one son who was born in 1996.

At the time of their remarriage in 1991, Preston was employed by the United States Department of State, and Donna was employed as an assistant supervisor in the Prince George's County Department of Social Services. Eventually, Preston accepted a position with the United States Agency for International Development where he remained until his retirement in 2016. Throughout the parties’ second marriage, Preston has been the primary "breadwinner." According to Donna, she left her job in 2002 to care for their son because Preston traveled frequently for work. She has since remained unemployed.

Donna and Preston have resided in the same marital home in Mitchellville, Maryland, since 1998. In 2012, the couple ceased having sexual relations and now live in separate parts of the home.

On February 8, 2017, Donna filed a complaint for absolute divorce or, in the alternative, a limited divorce on the grounds of cruelty of treatment and constructive desertion.3 Count I of the complaint alleges, in pertinent part, that

[Preston] has persistently engaged in cruelty of treatment of [Donna], and has engaged in excessively vicious conduct, endangering [Donna]’s safety, health, and happiness, and has verbally abused, harassed and humiliated her on numerous occasions, rendering the continuation of the marital relationship impossible if [Donna] is to preserve her health, safety, and self-respect.

On May 1, 2017, Preston filed an answer, requesting that the complaint be denied.

The court conducted an evidentiary hearing on Donna's claim for absolute divorce or, in the alternative, limited divorce on January 25, 2018. Both parties were represented by counsel and were the only witnesses.

Donna's Testimony

Donna testified that the parties began experiencing marital problems in 1998, a few years after the birth of their son, because Preston "began to make major household decisions without [her] input." Donna explained that the parties’ problems have "escalated over the years." Specifically, Donna testified:

248 A.3d 1091
The difficulties I was having in my marriage was [sic] that [Preston], he treats me cruelly. He calls me out of my name [sic] constantly. He belittles me in front of our son and others. He withholds financial support and makes me beg for food. He leaves the residence for weeks and goes to North Carolina, so he says. He does not tell me when he's coming and going. I've had to accept this, because I raised our son.

* * * * *

So he was gone for periods of three months ... for work, and then he would return home. But he wouldn't tell me he's coming home. He would just show up at the door or scare me or frighten me. Then he would leave for North Carolina. He had purchased two homes in North Carolina in 2005. He would leave the residence without telling me. He didn't inform me of that purchase or anything. And when I asked him things, he would tell me it's none of my business. He would tell me he makes the majority of the money. I don't make as much money as him, therefore, he gets to make the decisions, because he who owns the gold makes the rules.

Donna then introduced into evidence a letter, admitted into evidence as Plaintiff's Ex. 1, that she received from Preston. The letter stated:

I am sick and tired of your holier than [thou] bullshit attitude. You are offended by my use of the word BITCH, however, you let Levin call you a bitch in front of your coworkers and you did nothing. Then you let a fat bitch run you out of you[r] job of 15 years. You have no problem sucking another woman's husband dick that simply placated you, but when your own husband does the best he can, and provides for you[,] [y]ou can't even sleep in the same bed with him. He has to jerk off and deal with it. The nerve of you to question my love for you, if it were not for me you would be living in some shithole. Don't you ever question my love for you as long as I pay the rent, the insurance, the groceries and every motherf[***]ing thing else[.] BITCH.


Donna testified that she felt "humiliated" and "hurt" by the letter. It "tore [her] up to know that [those were] his sentiments." According to Donna, Preston further humiliated her a few years later, in 2006, by reading the note aloud to neighbors during a dinner at Donna and Preston's house.

Donna related that Preston wrote other similar notes that hurt her feelings and made her feel "worthless." When she "asked [Preston] about [the notes], he would tell [her] that [her] feelings don't matter. He felt justified." Preston frequently calls her "offensive names in front of their son," in an attempt, Donna guessed, to "silence [her]." In fact, Donna testified, Preston demeans her on a regular basis for "the person [she] happen[s] to be, the way [she] walk[s], the way she stand[s]." Furthermore, she said, Preston never leaves her alone with her friends and monitors her calls.

Finances are a constant source of strife between Donna and Preston. Donna reiterated that Preston is the primary "breadwinner," and that her income consists of $645.69 from the State of Maryland.4 She explained that because Preston is responsible for the family's food, personal care needs, and their son's tuition, he "controls [their] whereabouts, because you can't do much in the world without money." Donna testified that Preston "controls everything" 5

248 A.3d 1092

and "let it be known to both [Donna and their son] that [they] have to do what he says." Donna recounted that, in January of 2017, Preston mostly stopped supporting her financially, requiring her to "beg" for small amounts of money for basic necessities. He also canceled her Costco membership card without telling her.

Donna imparted that Preston's financial control affects her relationship with her son. She explained that, when Preston is not at home, her relationship with her son is "pleasant," but that the relationship is strained when Preston is present. This strain, Donna opined, is the result of "pressure" imposed on their son due to Preston's financial control over the family—he "pay[s] all the bills and will withhold" and "retaliate" if their son does not behave in the way that he wants.

Donna asserted that Preston "is determined to mentally break me down." She testified that

he has said that I was crazy. He has called my brother out of state and asked him to persuade me to get psychological help. He tells me I have mental condition. On the next hand, he would tell me he's not responsible for me. Then on the next hand, he would send me dozens of roses and then won't even speak to me when he comes in the home. But he does that show for our son to give the appearance of care, but he does not care for me.

He does not communicate with me. He instigates and humiliates me constantly.

Over the years, Preston required Donna to sign "apology" notes to receive money for basic necessities, including car repairs. She recalled that Preston "had several things that sometimes [she] would just sign just to get what it was that [she] or [her son] needed." Donna testified that these incidents made her feel "like less than a person." As an example, Donna introduced into evidence a typed letter,...

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4 cases
  • Williams v. Williams
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • May 24, 2022
    ...wife which is calculated to seriously impair the health or permanently destroy the happiness of the other.'" Frazelle-Foster v. Foster, 250 Md.App. 52, 78 (2021) (quoting Scheinin v. Scheinin, 200 Md. 282, 289 (1952)). Evidence of "ongoing verbal and psychological abuse" inflicted by the ot......
  • Wright v. Wright
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • April 14, 2023
    ...abuse which 'is calculated to seriously impair the health or permanently destroy the happiness of the other.'" Frazelle-Foster v. Foster, 250 Md.App. 52, 82 (2021) (quoting Das v. Das, 133 Md.App. 1, 33 (2000) (quoting Scheinin v. Scheinin, 200 Md. 282, 289 (1952))). As this Court observed ......
  • Emenuga v. Emenuga
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • December 1, 2021
    ...evidence of an abuse of discretion, the trial court's judgment ordinarily will not be disturbed on appeal.'" Frazelle-Foster v. Foster, 250 Md.App. 52, 64 (2021) (quoting Boemio v. Boemio, 414 Md. 118, 124-25 (2010)). We evaluate the judge's factual findings under the clearly erroneous stan......
  • Gagliardi v. Gagliardi
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 3, 2022
    ...of a divorce action, cruelty "does not require physical violence or the threat of physical violence[.]" Frazelle-Foster v. Foster, 250 Md.App. 52, 54 (2021). Cruelty must be shown to be conduct, "calculated to seriously impair the health or permanently destroy the happiness of the other." D......

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