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Alimony And The First Amendment

Posted in Delaware Family Court, Delaware Supreme Court, Family Law

In an interesting and perhaps novel argument, Vanessa Wright appealed a Family Court decision awarding $1,313 a month in alimony to her former husband, David E. Wright, alleging, inter alia, the Family Court abused its discretion and violated her rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by reducing her tithing when calculating her monthly expenses.

In considering Wife’s ability to pay alimony to her former husband, the Family Court examined the monthly income and expenses of both parties.  Ms. Wright earned approximately $110,000 per year and included among her expenses a monthly charitable contribution of $1,000.  Mr. Wright’s annual income was $2,000. In its analysis, the Family Court examined all of Ms. Wright’s expenses and reduced the expenses it found were non-regular, voluntary charitable contributions and expenses that Ms. Wright was not obligated to pay.  Though the court commended Ms. Wright “on donating so much of her income to charity” the court explained that, in light of her expenses and Mr. Wright’s, the contribution expense “must be reduced.”  The court reduced this expense to $100, finding that to be a “more reasonable amount.”  

Ms. Wright argued that the Family Court decision prevented her from contributing ten percent of her income as required by her faith, thereby violating her right to freely exercise her religion. 

The Delaware Supreme Court was not swayed by Ms. Wright’s argument, holding that pursuant to section 1512 of title 13 of the Delaware Code the Family Court may evaluate any factor it finds appropriate when conducting an alimony analysis, including the voluntariness of an expense.  The Supreme Court noted that nothing in the Family Court decision prohibits Ms. Wright from contributing any amount she chooses to her church.  Further, the Court found that even after Ms. Wright fulfilled her alimony obligation, she had a surplus from which she could tithe if she chose to do so.  Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded that Ms. Wright failed to demonstrate that the Family Court erred in its decision.

The decision may be read in its entirety here.

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Leslie Spoltore is an attorney with the law firm Fox Rothschild LLP.  Leslie practices in Fox Rothschild’s Wilmington, Delaware office.  You can reach Leslie at (302) 622-4203, or lspoltore@foxrothschild.com.