AUSTIN L. TAYLOR, Respondent-Below, Appellant,
CHRISTINA A. TAYLOR, Petitioner-Below, Appellee
Submitted September 10, 2014.
Case Closed October 9, 2014.
Court Below: Family Court of the State of Delaware in and for Kent County. File No. CK07-02520, Petition Nos. 12-35755, 09-41054.
Patrick C. Gallagher, Esquire, Curley & Benton, LLC for Appellant Austin L. Taylor.
Glynis Gibson, Esquire, Glynis Gibson, P.A. for Appellee Christina A. Taylor.
Before STRINE, Chief Justice, HOLLAND, and RIDGELY, Justices.
STRINE, Chief Justice.
Appellant Austin L. Taylor (the " Husband" ) appeals from a Family Court decision denying his Motion to Reopen an Alimony Order, which was entered by the court without his participation. On appeal, the Husband argues that a default judgment was not appropriate under Rule 60(b) because he was not properly served, and he did not have a fair opportunity to contest the amount of the obligation imposed upon him. Christina A. Taylor (the " Wife" ) opposed his motion during the proceedings at the Family Court and argues on appeal that the default alimony order should stand.
The decision to reopen an alimony order lies in the sound discretion of the
Family Court. But this case involves unusual circumstances, and we conclude that the Family Court abused its discretion in denying the Husband's motion to reopen.
The Husband and the Wife separated in October 2006 after 22 years of marriage. The Wife filed for divorce in December of 2009, but put the proceedings on ice until March 20, 2012. Even though the Husband and the Wife were in the midst of a divorce, they remained friendly and frequently communicated with each other. Accordingly, when the Husband became a long-haul truck driver in August 2010, the Wife agreed to receive his mail at her home, the former marital residence. The Husband then changed his address on record with the Family Court to reflect that he should receive mail from the court at her address.
When the Wife filed her paperwork in March 2012 to finalize the divorce proceedings and, most important, to seek an award of alimony from the Husband, she was still communicating amicably with him. Nevertheless, she did not notify him that she had reinitiated the divorce proceedings, or that she was seeking alimony. And instead of using her address, in accordance with their arrangement, she gave the Family Court a moribund address for the Husband even though she knew he was no longer residing -- or receiving mail -- there. The Wife did not ask the Husband, or one of their adult daughters, with whom both parents were in contact, for the Husband's updated mailing address. The Wife also did not inform the Family Court that she had previously agreed with the Husband to receive his mail at her house. Nor did she help the Family Court in trying to determine his current address. For example, she could -- and should -- have provided the Family Court with the Husband's email address and cell phone number, both of which she knew. Not only that, but the Wife did not indicate that the Husband had given her the authority to change the address he had previously given the court. There is nothing in the record to suggest she had such authority.
As a result of her lack of full disclosure to both the Family Court and the Husband, he did not receive any of the paperwork related to the Wife's alimony request and he failed to respond. Notably, the Family Court did not use the address the Husband had most recently provided -- the Wife's address -- but instead used the outdated address the Wife listed on her paperwork without the Husband's knowledge or authorization. The Family Court entered an alimony order in his absence in July 2012, granting the Wife's request without considering the Husband's ability to pay. The Wife continued to keep the Husband in the dark even after the order was entered; he did not learn that he owed her ...