Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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Grandparents petitioned for third-party visitation rights, and the parents objected. The Family Court essentially found the parents’ objections were not unreasonable. The grandparents had attacked the parents on social media, disparaged their parenting abilities, demoralized their son (the father), and sought to meddle in the parents’ relationships with their children. Nonetheless, the court awarded the grandparents the right to visitation in a “supervised, therapeutic setting.” The court believed that visitation in such a controlled environment, and under the supervision of a trained professional, would minimize the parents’ concerns and render their objections “clearly unreasonable.” The Delaware Supreme Court determined the trial court record provided no basis for supporting the conclusion that therapeutic, supervised visitation would adequately address the reasonable objections of the parents. Furthermore, the Court found the grandparents presented no evidence to support a finding that therapeutic, supervised visitation would not substantially interfere with the parent-child relationship. Therefore, the Court held the Family Court abused its discretion in awarding visitation to the grandparents, and reversed its decision. View "Grant v. Grant" on Justia Law

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With certain exceptions, a sex offender can rebut the presumption established by the Child Protection From Sex Offenders Act by demonstrating his compliance with the conditions in the statute. This appeal raised one issue: whether the Sex Offenders Act and its rebuttable presumption operated outside of Family Court custody proceedings. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded, as did the Family Court, that the General Assembly intended that the Act and its rebuttable presumption to operate only when the Family Court determines custody, residency, and visitation as part of a Family Court custody proceeding. The Court therefore affirmed the Family Court’s order. View "Division of Family Services v. O'Bryan" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Supreme Court in this case was the Family Court’s determination that only one-third of a substantial bonus paid to Wife after separation but before divorce qualified as marital property. According to the Family Court, because two-thirds of the bonus payment was subject to forfeiture after the couple’s divorce, only one-third of the bonus was actually earned during the marriage and qualified as marital property. The Supreme Court reversed the Family Court’s decision because the entire bonus was earned during the marriage and qualified as marital property. “Although Wife’s bonus might have been subject to forfeiture post-divorce, it was nonetheless earned … during the marriage.” The case was remanded for the Family Court to determine how to equitably divide the full bonus amount. View "King v. Howard" on Justia Law

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Wife Leslie Lankford appealed a family court order awarding her alimony. In an ancillary order, the family court found that Wife was dependent on her ex-husband, Evan Lankford, Jr. and therefore entitled to alimony. On reargument, the court recalculated Wife’s income and expenses and determined that Wife was not dependent on Husband for the purposes of alimony based solely on Wife’s monthly surplus of $260. She appealed. After review, the Supreme Court held that the family court abused its discretion by basing its dependency determination solely on one of the statutory factors provided in 13 Del. C. sec. 1512(c). Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded this case back to the family court for reconsideration of dependency in light of all relevant factors enumerated in Section 1512(c). View "Lankford v. Lankford" on Justia Law

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Husband-appellant Alexander Jones appealed a Family Court order that entered the parties’ stipulation on property division, awarded wife-appellee Adriana Jones alimony, and ordered Husband to pay Wife an additional monthly amount for unpaid interim alimony. Husband also appealed another Family Court order denying the parties’ motions for reargument. After review of the arguments made on appeal, the Supreme Court found no merit to most of Husband’s contentions, but remanded on his claims regarding Wife’s medical and health insurance expenses. View "Jones v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Husband Gary Glanden appealed a Family Court order dividing marital property and granting alimony to Wife Terry Quirk following their divorce after twenty-two years of marriage. The court divided the non-retirement assets 65% in Wife’s favor, and divided the remaining marital property equally. The court awarded alimony for an indefinite period.Husband argued the trial judge erred by including in the marital estate part of a January 2013 payment from his law firm received after the couple separated. Husband also claimed that the court abused its discretion by dividing the couple’s assets favorably to Wife, and in awarding Wife alimony. After review, the Supreme Court found that Husband’s argument about his law firm payment was at odds with the plain language of his employment agreement, where the disputed payment represented “the balance of [Husband’s] prior year’s base compensation,” and therefore was partially includable in the marital estate. The Court also found that Husband’s other arguments essentially asked for reconsideration of Family Court decisions which were amply supported by the evidence entered into the record. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Family Court's decision. View "Glanden v. Quirk" on Justia Law

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Dawn Locke, on behalf of minor appellant, Kimberly Foth, appealed a Superior Court final judgment in favor of Foth and minor appellee, John Barlow, III, and an order that granted Barlow's motion to enforce the parties' settlement agreement wherein Foth and Barlow would each receive $7,500. The Supreme Court had vacated the Superior Court's Order entering final judgment and remanded the case for a minors' settlement hearing. On remand, the Superior Court considered testimony from both minors and their mothers, and reviewed the minors' medical records. Then the court issued a Report on Remand in which determined that an equal division of the $15,000 settlement proceeds between the minors was fair and reasonable. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that the Superior Court's focus should have been on whether the division of funds was fair (i.e., enforcing the settlement agreement: "Title 12, section 3926 mandates that court approval of a minor settlement always starts with a 'clean slate' by providing that no person dealing with the receiver of a minor can rely upon the receiver's authority to settle tort claims. The statute requires an independent judicial determination about whether the settlement agreement for a minor should be approved and specifically rejects the concept that such an agreement can be specifically enforced if the court has reservations." In this case, the record reflected that the Superior Court did not make an independent determination because it stated that, if it disregarded the settlement agreement and started on a "clean slate," it would have awarded Foth $10,000 instead of the $7,500 in the settlement agreement. View "Barlow, et al. v. Finegan, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellees Carl and Pamela Morton filed a petition for guardianship against Defendant-Appellant Terry Hanson. An in-house attorney who did not carry malpractice insurance was appointed by the Family Court to represent Defendant. The Family Court certified a question to the Supreme Court concerning in-house attorneys appointed to represent indigent parties. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that in-house counsel appointed by the Family Court had qualified immunity under the Delaware Tort Claims Act. Furthermore, lack of malpractice insurance is not "good cause" for an attorney to withdraw from court-appointed representation. View "Hanson v. Morton" on Justia Law

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Mother Charlene M. Hall filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of father Christopher Moore with regard to their child born August 24, 2005. The Family Court granted the Mother's petition. The Father raised two issues on appeal: (1) the Family Court violated his right to due process under the United States and Delaware Constitutions by not appointing new counsel to represent him, after it allowed his court-appointed attorney to withdraw; and (2) the record did not support the Family Court's decision to terminate his parental rights. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the Father's due process rights were indeed violated, therefore the Court reversed and remanded the case to the Family Court for a new hearing after an attorney was appointed to represent the Father. View "Moore v. Hall" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court on appeal in this case was the meaning of the term "regularly residing" as used in Delaware’s alimony statute. The Family Court denied appellant's petition to terminate alimony, finding that appellee and her companion were not permanently or continuously residing together. The trial court focused on the fact that appellee and her companion maintained separate homes, and the absence of evidence as to whether they spent the majority of their free time together. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that that the trial court applied an incorrect standard in evaluating the evidence: (1) the term "regularly residing" means "liv[ing] together with some degree of continuity . . . .;" (2) the fact that appellee and her companion were retirees did not change the analysis of whether they were regularly residing together; and (3) two people may be regularly residing together even though they maintain separate homes. View "Paul v. Paul" on Justia Law