Superior Court of Clark County. Superior Court Docket No. 92-3-01067-1. Date Filed In Superior Court: February 18, 1994. Superior Court Judge Signing: Thomas Lodge.
Written By: Morgan, J. Concurred IN By: Turner, J., Bridgewater, J.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morgan
MORGAN, J. -- In this dissolution case, the husband appeals the trial court's division of property. We affirm.
In 1972, Wallace and Elaine Geigle were married. According to their later decree of dissolution, Wallace already had three-and-a-half years of credited federal employment. In 1974, Wallace went to work for the Veterans Administration Hospital in Vancouver, Washington. In 1983, Wallace ceased working at the hospital after suffering a back injury, apparently while on the job. The same year, according to his brief, "he was found to be totally disabled from employment by the United States Department of Labor and was awarded federal workman's compensation benefits" under the Federal Employee's Compensation Act, 5 U.S.C. § 8101 et seq. *fn1 Benefits under that Act are administered by the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP), whereas ordinary federal retirement benefits are administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
Elaine filed for dissolution in July 1992, and trial was held in December 1993. Elaine retained counsel, but Wallace chose to represent himself.
At the time of trial, Elaine was 72 years old and was receiving Social Security of $508 per month. Wallace was 63 years old and, according to his testimony, suffered from Parkinson's disease. He was entitled to Social Security of $149 to $153 per month, but was not yet drawing it. He was receiving $1860.24 per month in OWCP total disability benefits, but these would drop to $1654.37 per month after dissolution. *fn2 His OWCP benefits were subject to his continuing total disability, as verified by periodic physical examinations. *fn3
On February 18, 1993, the trial court entered findings of fact and a decree of dissolution. The decree characterized as community property, and awarded to Wallace, his OWCP total disability benefits, *fn4 a partially completed house on 1.7 acres in Grays River, Washington, a mobile home, building materials related to the Grays River house, various cars, boats, sporting goods, and tools, and all personal property then in his possession. The decree characterized as community property, and awarded to Elaine, a duplex on 5.18 acres in Ridgefield, *fn5 an adjacent 22-acre wooded tract, a cemetery lot, a car, a motor home, a revolver, and personal property in her possession unless otherwise awarded to Wallace. The decree also awarded to Elaine, as separate property, "18 ladies diamond sets with appraisals, trays of rings and other jewels" inherited from her mother. *fn6
In valuing and characterizing Wallace's OWCP benefits, the trial court used a pension service's appraisal of the benefits' present value. The appraisal was presented by Elaine. The pension service assumed that the benefits were paid as a vested annuity under the Civil Service Retirement system, and that Wallace "has the life expectancy of a healthy American." *fn7 Using the pension service's formula and a monthly benefit of $1654.37, the trial court calculated that Wallace's OWCP benefits had a present value of $227,624.
The trial court also assigned present values of $59,100 to Elaine's Social Security benefits; $15,000 to Wallace's potential Social Security benefits; $138,400 to the Ridgefield duplex and land; and $110,000 to the 22 acres. It also assigned a value of $25,000 to the Grays River land, incomplete house, and building materials. With respect to the Grays River land, it stated:
My opinion is that at least there's $25,000 worth of value up there in some way, shape or other, and probably a lot more . . . . I'm putting minimum values on what I believe Mr. Geigle has, and I want that clear. I believe the Grays River property, my personal feeling is, it's worth more than the figure I'm putting on it. It's worth at least that, but I don't think Mrs. Geigle is asking for anything more than I'm giving her; therefore, even if I've slightly underestimated his, I don't think it creates a problem. [ *fn8 ]
The court apparently did not assign values to the contents of the family home, including jewelry, a coin collection, furnishings and appliances, all of which it awarded to Elaine. The court stated it was awarding Elaine the income-producing Ridgefield duplex "so she will have enough income to survive." *fn9
Based on the trial court's values and calculations, Elaine received $305,500 in assets and post-dissolution income of perhaps $1400 per month. *fn10 Wallace received $267,000 in assets and post-dissolution income of perhaps $1650 per month. The trial court recognized that this division resulted in Elaine's receiving slightly more than half the marital assets, but felt the division was equitable in light of the parties' respective incomes. Wallace now appeals.
Wallace first contends that the trial court erred in treating Wallace's OWCP benefits as a divisible asset. According to him, (A) OWCP benefits are not assignable under federal law, and (B) even if they are, they are a substitute for future earnings (as opposed to compensation earned during marriage, the payment of which was deferred). ...