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Delaware Family Law – Delaware Supreme Court Remands Alimony Decision

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

Like many other states, Delaware law provides a dependent spouse with an opportunity to seek alimony in a divorce proceeding.  Section 1512 of Title 13 of the Delaware Code requires a party seeking alimony to establish that he or she “lacks sufficient property. . . to provide for his or her reasonable needs.”  The determination of what constitute “reasonable needs” and whether a party is dependent is a case-by-case decision that takes into account the parties’ lifestyle during the marriage.  The recent Delaware Supreme Court decision in the matter of Castle v. Castle, Del., No. 650, 2012, Steele, J. (June 11, 2013) examines the proof required to establish whether a party has established his or her dependence.

Background

Mr. Castle lost his job as a respiratory therapist and sought support from his former wife as part of the divorce proceedings.  In connection with the hearing on his request, Mr. Castle provided the Court with a list of his monthly expenses.  He included in this budget $1,150 per month for a mortgage payment, a child support obligation of $1,000 per month for the parties’ children, and approximately $600 per month for the payment of certain marital debt. The marital debt was comprised of a $350 monthly obligation to the IRS and $250 monthly obligation for marital credit card debt.

Mr. Castle, however, did not provide documentation to support his budget.  In addition, Mr. Castle testified that he had not paid the mortgage, which caused the home to go into foreclosure.  He also testified that he had not paid $1,000 per month for child support since losing his job.  He informed the Court that his support obligation had actually been reduced to $200.  Further, he testified that the under the terms of the parties’ property division agreement he was only responsible for payment of half of the monthly obligation to the IRS and he was solely responsible for the credit card debt.     

The Family Court ultimately determined Mr. Castle was dependent on his former wife for support and ordered her to pay alimony of $1,500 per month.  In reaching this conclusion the Court accepted Mr. Castle’s listed expenses in full.

The Appeal

Ms. Castle appealed the Family Court’s determination arguing, inter alia, the Court erred in crediting Mr. Castle with payment of certain expenses that he expressly stated he was not paying and in crediting him with payment of expenses that had been disposed of in the property division agreement.  In reviewing the record below, the Delaware Supreme Court noted that a party requesting alimony bears the burden to prove their dependency.  The Court found that the Family Court erred in accepting Mr. Castle’s expenses “which were not supported by any evidence and, in some instances, were flatly contradicted by [h]usband’s own testimony.”  Id. at 7.  As a result, the Supreme Court reversed the decision and remanded the matter for further proceedings in the Family Court.

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Leslie Spoltore is a Partner 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.