Ware v. Ware

Decision Date30 March 2000
Docket NumberNo. 6200,6200
PartiesRodney Soloman WARE, Sr. v. Sandra Moore WARE.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Paul Bauer Eason, Greenbelt, for appellant.

Peter R. Kolker (Kristen M. Flynn and Zuckerman, Spaeder, Goldstein, Taylor & Kolker, L.L.P., on the brief), Washington, DC, for appellee.

Argued before MOYLAN, KENNEY and ADKINS, JJ.

MOYLAN, Judge.

The appellant, Ronnie Soloman Ware, Sr., challenges the Orders issued by Judge Theresa A. Nolan in the Circuit for Prince George's County awarding the appellee, Sandra Moore Ware, 1) a monetary award in the amount of $1,602,588.20, 2) indefinite alimony, 3) child support, and 4) attorney's fees. On appeal, the appellant contends:

1. that the trial court erred in granting the appellee a monetary award which included a portion of the appellant's lottery winnings acquired after the parties were separated;

2. that the trial court erred in granting the appellee an award of indefinite alimony based on disparity of income;

3. that the trial court erred in awarding the appellee child support when the appellee's financial statements indicated that she had excess income on a monthly basis and the minor child had no unmet needs; and

4. that the trial court abused its discretion in requiring the appellant to pay § 14,000 towards the appellee's attorney's fees.

On cross-appeal, the appellee contends:

that the trial court erred in limiting its award of attorney's fees to only $14,000.
Facts and Procedural Background

This case involves a dispute between the parties, formerly husband and wife, over the $17 million Powerball winnings won by the appellant shortly after the parties separated in December 1995. The parties were married in August 1992, and have one minor child, Rodney Soloman Ware, Jr., born on December 8, 1993.

While the parties were living together, their monetary contributions to the marriage were substantially equal. Although the appellee was unemployed for short periods of time on at least three occasions during the marriage, she had primary responsibility for caring for the child and for keeping up the home. When both were working, the parties shared those responsibilities. When both were employed, each party earned approximately $25,000 per year.

The marriage between the parties was short-lived. In December of 1995, after only three-and-a-half years of marriage, the parties separated and the appellee moved into her own apartment. According to the appellee, the marriage broke up as a result of financial strain caused by the appellant's gambling. The appellee also alleged that on at least three occasions there had been physical altercations between her and the appellant. It was also revealed, however, that the appellee had committed adultery in April of 1995. The appellant was unaware of his wife's infidelity until September 1997.1

Notwithstanding the separation, from December 1995 until April 1996, the appellant would often visit the plaintiff in her new apartment and stay overnight. The parties continued to have sexual relations during that period of time. In April of 1996, four months after the parties separated, the appellant won the D.C. Powerball lottery, winning an annuity of $17 million. The appellant received his first initial payment in the first week of May 1996 in the amount $856,853.08, and was to receive $846,000 per year, before taxes, for the following nineteen years.

On August 13, 1996, the appellee filed a Complaint for Absolute Divorce in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County. The appellant initially responded by filing a Counter-Complaint for a Limited Divorce. In October of 1997, the appellant filed an Amended Supplemental Counter-Complaint for Absolute Divorce after learning of the appellee's adultery for the first time during a deposition held on September 24, 1997. The parties also entered into a Parenting Agreement which resolved the issues of child custody and visitation.

On December 1, 1997, a hearing was held before Judge Nolan with respect to the appellee's Complaint for Absolute Divorce and the appellant's Amended Supplemental Complaint for Absolute Divorce. By consent of all parties, the appellee's requests for child support and attorney's fees were severed from the trial and were to be resolved following a ruling from the trial court on the parties' respective Complaints for divorce and the appellee's requests for a monetary award and indefinite alimony.

On April 8, 1998, the trial court issued a written Opinion and Order granting the appellant an absolute divorce from the appellee on the grounds of adultery. The trial court then awarded the appellee a monetary award totaling $1,602,588.20. The trial court also ordered the appellant to pay the appellee, as indefinite alimony, $3,500 per month commencing on April 1, 1998.

On April 20, 1998, the appellant filed a timely Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment, seeking 1) reconsideration of the trial court's award of indefinite alimony and 2) clarification as to who should bear the tax consequences of the monetary award. On November 2, 1998, a hearing was held on the appellant's motion, which was ultimately denied on November 25, 1998.

On December 14, 1998, a hearing was held regarding the issue of child support, during which testimony was presented by both parties. On February 4, 1999, after considering the evidence presented at that hearing and reviewing the memoranda of law submitted by the parties, the trial court issued an Order requiring the appellant to pay $1,500 per month for child support. The trial court further ordered that the appellant contribute $14,000 towards the appellee's attorney's fees. Both parties filed motions to modify that Order. On May 3, 1999 the trial court issued a Memorandum of Court denying all outstanding motions. The parties then noted timely appeals.

The Monetary Award

The appellant's sole contention with regard to the monetary award is that the trial court erred in awarding the appellee any portion of his lottery winnings. Although conceding that the "annuity is technically marital property because it was acquired during the course of the marriage and prior to the granting of the Judgment of Absolute Divorce," the appellant, relying on Alston v. Alston, 331 Md. 496, 509, 629 A.2d 70 (1993), nonetheless contends that the record in this case "contains no evidence which would justify awarding any portion of the annuity to the wife."

As explained by this Court in Strauss v. Strauss, 101 Md.App. 490, 501, 647 A.2d 818 (1994):

Maryland law requires the application of a three-step analysis when calculating a monetary award in the course of a divorce proceeding: (1) the trial court must initially characterize all property owned by the parties, however titled, as either marital or non-marital; (2) the court shall then determine the value of all marital property; and, finally, (3) the court may then make a monetary award as an adjustment of the parties' equities and rights in the marital property.

(Citations omitted). See also Doser v. Doser, 106 Md.App. 329, 349-50, 664 A.2d 453 (1995)

. It is undisputed that in this case, Judge Nolan 1) properly characterized the Powerball winnings as marital property and 2) properly determined the value of that marital property.

In then balancing the equities as part of the third step, a court is called upon to consider the following factors set forth in Md.Code, § 8-205(b) of the Family Law Article:

(1) the contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family;

(2) the value of all property interests of each party;

(3) the economic circumstances of each party at the time the award is to be made;
(4) the circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties;

(5) the duration of the marriage;

(6) the age of each party;

(7) the physical and mental condition of each party;

(8) how and when specific marital property or interest in the pension, retirement, profit sharing, or deferred compensation plan, was acquired, including the effort expended by each party in accumulating the marital property or the interest in the pension, retirement, profit sharing, or deferred compensation plan, or both;
(9) the contribution by either party of the property described in § 8-201(e)(3) of this subtitle to the acquisition of real property held by the parties as tenants by the entirety;
(10) any award of alimony and any award or other provision that the court has made with respect to family use and personal property or the family home; and
(11) any other factor that the court considers necessary or appropriate to consider in order to arrive at a fair and equitable monetary award or transfer of an interest in the pension, retirement, profit sharing, or deferred compensation plan, or both.

After proper consideration of those factors, the ultimate decision of whether to grant a monetary award and the amount of such an award are matters entrusted to the sound discretion of the trial court. See Alston v. Alston, 331 Md. 496, 504, 629 A.2d 70 (1993)

; Lemley v. Lemley, 102 Md.App. 266, 298, 649 A.2d 1119 (1994).

The Appellant's Reliance on Alston

In support of his contention that the appellee is not entitled to any portion of his lottery winnings, the appellant relies solely on the Court of Appeals opinion in Alston. He specifically argues that because the facts in this case are "indistinguishable" from those in Alston, had the trial court given proper weight to the eighth factor in § 8-205(b) the trial court would necessarily have concluded, as did the Court in Alston, that the appellee was not entitled to any portion of his lottery winnings.

Our response to the appellant's reliance on Alston is two-fold. In our judgment, the facts in this case are not "indistinguishable" from those in Alston. There are a number of significant distinctions, both factual and procedural, between this case and Alston. We will turn...

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