LESLIE H. LANKFORD, Petitioner Below, Appellant,
EVAN K. LANKFORD, JR., Respondent Below, Appellee.
Submitted: March 8, 2017
Below: Family Court of the State of Delaware File No.
CN15-01377 Petition No. 15-12254
appeal from the Family Court. REVERSED and REMANDED.
L. Ableman, Esquire, and Janine L. Faben, Esquire, McCarter
& English, LLP, Wilmington, Delaware for Appellant.
Jennifer A. Hartnett, Esquire, Hartnett & Hartnett,
Hockessin, Delaware for Appellee.
STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA and SEITZ, Justices.
before this Court is Leslie H. Lankford's
("Wife") appeal from the Family Court's August
15, 2016 Letter and Order modifying its July 1, 2016
Ancillary Order awarding alimony to Wife. In the Ancillary
Order, the Family Court found that Wife was dependent on her
ex-husband, Evan K. Lankford, Jr. ("Husband"), and
therefore entitled to alimony. On reargument, the Family 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.
reasons set forth below, we hold that the Family Court abused
its discretion by basing its dependency determination solely
on one of the statutory factors provided in 13 Del.
C. § 1512(c). Accordingly, we REVERSE and REMAND
this matter to the Family Court for reconsideration of
dependency in light of all relevant factors enumerated in
RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
and Wife married in 1993 after Wife immigrated to the United
States from Hong Kong for the purpose of marrying Husband.
Husband and Wife had three children, two of whom were minors
at the time of the Ancillary Order. Throughout the marriage, the
family lived with Husband's mother in Husband's
mother's home. Wife's testimony suggests that she was
encouraged (if not actually forced) to remain as dependent as
possible on Husband. At a minimum, Wife's testimony
suggests that she experienced a high level of dependence on
Husband throughout their long marriage in a manner that
limited her ability to gain real-world skills. This
circumstance is relevant to the relative economic positions
of the parties and Wife's ability to support herself.
22 years of marriage, Husband and Wife separated on January
29, 2015 and divorced on January 6, 2016. Wife initially
lived with friends until she secured an 890-square-foot,
two-bedroom apartment. The minor children "do not feel
safe in the apartment, " which they have stated "is
not in a good area of town" and "is for 'poor
people.'" She has struggled to secure full-time
employment due to her low skill level and difficulty with the
English language. Instead, she works three part-time,
entry-level jobs to "make ends meet." Wife testified
that she lived frugally following separation from Husband
because she was "scared to death to spend every
penny[.]" Most of her possessions, including her
furniture and vehicle, have been donated by members of her
is currently unemployed and receives $330 per week in
unemployment. However, he has in the past achieved annual
income approaching $60, 000. During the marriage, he made
"upwards of $50, 000 annually" while working for
Comcast for ten years. At the time the couple separated, Husband
worked for the State of Delaware earning $38, 515 annually.
He and the couple's two minor children continue to reside
rent-free in Husband's mother's home, a brick
colonial that the record suggests Husband's mother
purchased for approximately $400, 000.
Ancillary Order, the Family Court noted that "Husband
enjoys far better economic circumstances than Wife" and
"is significantly the economically stronger spouse"
with "the ability to maintain employment in a higher
income bracket" despite his current unemployment
respect to alimony, the Family Court discussed the factors
provided in Section 1512(c) to determine "the amount of
alimony, if any, that should be awarded" as
The financial resources of the party seeking alimony.
Family Court observed that "Wife receives $1, 639 per
month from her three part-time jobs and from government
subsidies in the form of food stamps[, ]" and that
"[d]ue to Wife's lack of formal, educational or
vocational training as well as her limited skill set, the
Court does not attribute Wife with any additional earning
capacity." It found that Wife had reasonable
monthly expenses of $1, 870.23 and incurred a monthly deficit
of $472. Accordingly, the Family Court found that Wife was
dependent upon Husband.
The time necessary and expense required to attain sufficient
education or training.
Family Court explained that "Wife testified that she has
no vocational training and currently has three entry level
part-time jobs[, ]" and that "[i]t is unlikely that
Wife will be able to obtain vocational skills or a higher
education degree in the near future given the fact that she
works more than 40 hours per week to meet her living
The standard of living established during the marriage.
Family Court found that "[t]he parties enjoyed a decent
standard of living during the marriage, as Husband earned a
healthy salary and the parties lived rent-free in
Husband's mother's home." In addition,
it found that "Husband was able to acquire a significant
amount of assets during the parties' marriage, and the
parties have a minute amount of marital
The duration of the marriage. Because the couple had
been married for 22 years, the Family Court found that Wife
was entitled to alimony for life under 13 Del. C.
The age, physical, and emotional conditions of the
Family Court stated that Wife is 44 years old and Husband is
52 years old. The parties did not provide evidence of their
physical or emotional conditions.
Any financial or other contribution made by either party to
the education, training, vocational skills, career or earning
capacity of the other. The parties did not present
evidence pertaining to this factor.
The ability of the other party to meet his or her needs while
Family Court found:
Based on [Husband's] $17, 160 current annual income and
reasonable monthly expenses of $1, 556.18, the Fin Plan shows
Husband that Husband's reasonable monthly expenses exceed
his monthly income and Husband has a monthly shortfall of
$78.00. Given Wife's reasonable monthly expenses of $1,
870.23, the Court finds that Wife is dependent upon Husband
for support. Wife, after paying her reasonable monthly
expenses, has a monthly shortfall of $472. Husband, however,
also has a shortfall of $78 per month after paying his
reasonable monthly expenses. The parties, therefore, must
share the shortfall. Pursuant to the attached alimony
calculation, Husband shall pay Wife $224 per month in
alimony. The Court finds that Husband has an obligation to
Wife to seek and obtain full-time employment. Husband shall
notify Wife if as and when such employment is obtained so
that Wife may file for an adjustment to her alimony support
Family Court took judicial notice that alimony is tax
deductible to the payor and taxable income to the recipient.
Whether either party has foregone or postponed economic,
education or other employment opportunities during
the course of the marriage.
Family Court determined that:
Wife testified that English is her second language and that
she possesses no vocational skills. Additionally, Wife
testified that while working part-time during the
parties' marriage, she was also responsible for the
child-rearing as well as the household responsibilities.
Husband testified that he was the primary financial provider
for most of the parties' marriage.
Any other factor that the court finds is just and ...