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Thomas v. Thomas

Supreme Court of Delaware

October 1, 2014

CALVIN B. THOMAS, Defendant-Below, Appellant,
v.
STACEY L. THOMAS, Plaintiff-Below, Appellee

Submitted: September 17, 2014.

Motion for Reargument filed 10/8/14;

Denied 10/28/14.

Case Closed October 28, 2014.

Page 1139

Court Below: Family Court of the State of Delaware, in and for New Castle County. File No. CN11-06308.

Gary L. Smith, Esquire, Gary L. Smith, Attorney At Law, Newark, Delaware, Attorney for Defendant-Below, Appellant.

David J. J. Facciolo, Esquire, Minster & Facciolo LLC, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Plaintiff-Below, Appellee.

Before STRINE, Chief Justice; HOLLAND, RIDGELY, and VALIHURA, Justices; and DAVIS, Judge[*], constituting the Court en Banc.

OPINION

Page 1140

HOLLAND, Justice:

On December 15, 2011, Stacey L. Thomas (the " Wife" ) petitioned the Family Court for a divorce from Calvin B. Thomas (the " Husband" ), which was granted on February 16, 2012. Thereafter, the Family Court rendered final decisions on several ancillary matters. The Husband raises six issues in this appeal: first, the Family Court erred by not equally dividing the marital property; second, the Family Court erred by determining that the Wife was dependent and therefore entitled to alimony; third, the Family Court erred by applying a 2.5 percent interest rate to calculate the Wife's income from her inheritance, instead of some higher interest rate; fourth, the Family Court erred when it refused to retroactively modify the amount of the interim alimony award; fifth, the Family Court imposed an impermissible punitive fine when it found the Husband in contempt of its interim alimony order; and sixth, the Family Court

Page 1141

erred when it awarded the Wife a portion of her attorney's fees.

We have concluded that the Family Court erroneously applied the alimony statute in making its final award. We have also determined that the other issues raised by the Husband are without merit. Therefore, the judgment of the Family Court is affirmed, in part, and reversed, in part. The matter is remanded to the Family Court for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

Facts

The Husband is an independent contractor for Schmidt Baking Company, with an income that the Family Court found to be approximately $60,000 per year. The Wife works two part-time jobs at an hourly wage, with a total income of $16,700 per year. On March 8, 2012, the Wife filed a motion for interim alimony. In her motion, the Wife acknowledged that she had inherited $450,000.

The parties agreed that the inheritance was considered to be separate property under 13 Del. C. § 1513(b)(1) and it was not divided as a marital asset. On that basis, the Husband argued, in his answer, that the Wife's motion for interim alimony should be denied because " [the Wife] is not dependent upon respondent for support when she has $500,000 in the bank that could be used for that purpose." On April 30, 2012, the Family Court awarded the Wife interim alimony of $2,018 per month, a calculation that was based, in part, on interest income earned on an inheritance valued at $450,000 at an interest rate of 2.2 percent.

The Husband filed a motion for reargument on May 7, 2012. In the motion, the Husband pointed out that when the Wife filed her Rule 16(c) financial report, she disclosed that she actually had $629,359 in that account, as well as $5,115 in a different account. The Husband requested, among other things, that the Family Court recalculate the interim alimony based on this new amount, because the additional $184,474 would generate more interest income. The Family Court denied the motion on May 30, 2012, noting that " [t]his figure was not available to the Court at the time the Order was issued" and that " the Court has no information regarding the source of these funds."

On August 23, 2012, the Wife filed a rule to show cause petition because the Husband stopped making his interim alimony payments. The Family Court held a hearing on the final distribution of marital assets and the rule to show cause petition on February 7, 2013. Both the Husband and the Wife testified at the hearing. During his testimony, the Husband admitted that he was living with and paying all of the expenses for his girlfriend, who had been out of work. These expenses included the mortgage, utilities, and the cost of five cats.

The Family Court entered its final order on alimony and the division of marital property on May 6, 2013. The Family Court divided the marital property 60/40 in favor of the Wife, because the marital residence was a gift from the Wife's parents and the Husband had a higher income. The Family Court also determined that -- despite her sizeable inheritance -- the Wife was dependent on the Husband, and ordered the Husband to make alimony payments of $949 per month. The money from the inheritance was in a money market account, so the Family Court used a 2.5 ...


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