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Burke v. Burke

Supreme Court of Delaware

December 20, 2013

Darren BURKE,[1] Respondent Below-Appellant,
v.
Patricia BURKE, Petitioner Below-Appellee.

Submitted: Oct. 25, 2013.

Editorial Note:

This decision has been designated as "Table of Decisions Without Published Opinions." in the Atlantic Reporter.

Court Below— Family Court of the State of Delaware, in and for New Castle County, File No. CN99-10337, Petition No. 99-32643.

Before HOLLAND, BERGER and JACOBS, Justices.

ORDER

RANDY J. HOLLAND, Justice.

This 20th day of December 2013, upon consideration of the briefs of the parties and the record below, it appears to the Court that:

(1) The respondent-appellant, Darren Burke (" Darren" ), filed an appeal from the Family Court's June 3, 2013 order denying his motion for reargument pursuant to Family Court Civil Rule 59(e) and the Family Court's April 25, 2013 order granting in part and denying in part the motion of the petitioner-appellee, Patricia Burke (" Patricia" ), to reopen the judgment pursuant to Family Court Civil Rule 60. We find no merit to the appeal. Accordingly, we affirm.

(2) The record before us reflects that, during their marriage, both Darren and Patricia were employees of the State of Delaware. On January 11, 2001, following their divorce in August of 2000, the Family Court entered an order dismissing the ancillary matter of property division pursuant to Rule 16(e) for the failure of both parties to submit the required financial statements. On June 6, 2004, Patricia filed a motion for pension allocation. In connection with the motion, Patricia submitted two signed Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (" QRDOs" ), the first on behalf of Darren against her State pension (" QRDO I" ) and the second on behalf of herself against Darren's State pension (" QRDO II" ). Both QDROs had been signed by the parties in 2000, subsequent to their divorce.

(3) On June 23, 2004, the Family Court, re-opening sua sponte its earlier dismissal of the ancillary matter of property division, granted the motion for pension allocation. A copy of QDRO I was signed by the judge, placed in the Family Court file and sent to the State pension office. However, for reasons that are unclear, a copy of QRDO II apparently was never placed in the Family Court's file and apparently was never sent to the State Pension Office. On July 15, 2004, an attorney entered his appearance on behalf of Darren with respect to ancillary matters. The record reflects that the attorney was retained to examine the Family Court file to determine if there was any impediment to Darren's obtaining a construction loan for a house in Florida.

(4) The record reflects that neither party took any action with respect to the pension allocation issue until Patricia requested to review the Family Court's file in February 2013. On March 26, 2013, Patricia filed a motion to reopen the matter of her motion for pension allocation. In her motion, Patricia alleged that, in 2000, each party had executed a QDRO granting the other party the right to receive payments under his or her State pension and that copies of both QDRO I and QDRO II had been attached to her 2004 motion for pension allocation. Patricia stated that she had been working in Qatar from mid-June until late December 2004 and believed that the State Pension Office had received all the relevant documents from the Family Court. Finally, Patricia alleged that she was not aware of a problem until February 2013, when she contacted the State Pension Office following Darren's retirement in mid-2012 and was told, after several miscommunications, that they had no record of ever having received QDRO II. Subsequently, after reviewing the Family Court's file, she discovered that QDRO II was missing.

(5) In addition to moving to reopen, Patricia also requested that the Family Court accept a copy of the missing QDRO II, correct certain typographical errors in both QDRO I and QDRO II, enter the corrected copies of QRDO I and II and order Darren to pay her that portion of his pension benefits to which she was entitled under the formula contained in the signed QDROs---33.1%---from the date of his retirement up to the present.

(6) In response to Patricia's motion to reopen, Darren admitted signing both QDRO I and II in 2000, but claimed that, when the Family Court dismissed the ancillary matter of property division on January 11, 2001, he assumed that Patricia had abandoned her interest in his pension. He alleged that in reliance on that assumption, he had made personal and financial changes in his life, including re-marrying, purchasing certain real estate, borrowing funds for those purchases and retiring earlier than he otherwise would have done. Darren further alleged that he was unaware of Patricia's 2004 motion for pension allocation. Darren, finally, argued that Patricia's delay in asserting her rights constituted laches that should preclude the Family Court from granting her request for relief. On April 25, 2013, the Family Court granted the relief requested in Patricia's motion to reopen, with the exception that Patricia would receive a percentage of Darren's pension benefits only prospectively, and not retroactively.

(7) In his appeal from the Family Court's April 25, 2013 order, Darren claims that the Family Court erred and abused its discretion by reopening the matter of the parties' pensions, because Patricia's delay in asserting her rights constituted laches and because the standards of Rule 60 were not satisfied.[2] Darren does not dispute the 33.1% figure ...


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