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Yancey v. Yancey

Supreme Court of Delaware

October 23, 2017

DAMON YANCEY, [1] Respondent Below-Appellant,
ANITA YANCEY, Petitioner Below-Appellee.

          Submitted: August 11, 2017

         Court Below-Family Court of the State of Delaware File No. CN13-05642 Petition No. 14-24285

          Before STRINE, Chief Justice; SEITZ and TRAYNOR, Justices.


          Gary F. Traynor Justice

         This 23rd day of October 2017, upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the record below, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) The appellant, Damon Yancey ("Husband"), filed this appeal from an order of the Family Court, dated October 14, 2016, vacating its earlier order awarding Husband a 50% interest in one of his ex-wife's retirement plans. Husband's sole argument on appeal is that the Family Court abused its discretion by vacating its previous order without providing any reasons. After our review of the record, which is unclear and incomplete, especially with respect to Wife's retirement accounts, we conclude that the judgment of the Family Court is not supported by the record. Thus, we reverse and remand this matter for further proceedings consistent with this Order.

         (2) Husband and Anita Yancey ("Wife") were married on September 21, 2002, separated on September 21, 2013, and divorced on January 21, 2015. The parties have one daughter. The Family Court retained ancillary jurisdiction over the parties' divorce in order to address the matter of property division. The parties filed their Rule 16(c) financial report, and the Family Court held a property-division hearing on January 12, 2016. Both parties appeared at the hearing and were the only two witnesses to testify. Neither was represented by legal counsel.

         (3) At the start of the hearing, the Family Court informed the parties that it would be their final hearing on property division. The parties testified and presented documentary evidence concerning their disputed marital assets and debts. The record reflects, in relevant part, that Husband was 50-years-old, was self-employed, and had no retirement accounts. Wife was 33-years-old, had been employed by the Delaware River and Bay Authority ("DRBA") since 2006, and participated in two employer-sponsored retirement plans. Wife loosely referred to her retirement accounts as the pension plan and the ING account. Although no documentation regarding either plan was entered into evidence, Wife's disclosure in the Rule 16(c) Financial Report appears to demonstrate that she has an interest in the "DRBA Pension Plan" and employer-approved 401(a) (retirement) and 457(b) (deferred compensation) accounts.

         (4) It bears noting that the absence of documentary evidence relating to Wife's retirement accounts has resulted in an unclear record and has created doubt as to the precise nature of each account. Be that as it may, we will assume for the purposes of this Order that there are two separate retirement assets-the DRBA pension, which we will refer to as the "DRBA Pension" and the ING account, which we will refer to as the "ING 401(a) Account."

         (5) During the course of the hearing, the Family Court divided the parties' assets and debts. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge indicated that all matters had been resolved except for outstanding federal and state tax liabilities. The Family Court deferred dividing the tax debt until the parties supplied additional documents. On January 21, 2016, the Family Court entered a written order ("the First Property Division Order") reflecting the substance of the bench rulings made during the January 12 hearing.

         (6) Among other things, the First Property Division Order awarded Husband 50% of the value of "Wife's DRBA pension and ING account up to September 21, 2013, the date of separation...." The Family Court instructed Husband to retain a lawyer for the purpose of drafting the necessary Qualified Domestic Relations Order ("QDRO"), implementing the substance of the court's ruling, and to file the QDRO with the court by March 1, 2016. The Family Court also directed the parties to provide additional information by February 1, 2016 regarding post-separation deposits and withdrawals from the parties' joint bank account, which the court would use to determine how to divide their tax liability. The order noted that, after receiving the supplemental documentation, the Family Court would determine whether it could decide the remaining issue on the papers or would need to schedule a short hearing. The First Property Division Order stated that it was a final order.

         (7) The Family Court docket reflects no further action in the case until the entry of the QDRO in May 2016.[2] Although it is not included in the record prepared by the Family Court, Husband includes in the appendix to his opening brief a copy of a Family Court notice of a hearing that was scheduled in the case on May 16, 2016. The notice of the hearing does not identify the purpose of the hearing.[3] Husband contends in his opening brief, and the transcript of the hearing suggests, that Husband had been in contact with the Family Court because Wife had not signed the QDRO as required by the First Property Division Order.[4]

         (8) It is clear from the transcript of the May 16, 2016 hearing that the Family Court, after directing Wife to sign the QDRO, allowed the parties to present additional evidence relating to property-division issues, including those issues that were resolved in the First Property Division Order. The parties presented evidence regarding post-separation withdrawals and deposits from their joint bank account and their joint tax liability, which had not been resolved by the First Property Division Order. The testimony expanded, however, and the Family Court also heard arguments regarding a credit-union loan, debts from the parties' marital trip to visit Wife's family in Indonesia, and Wife's retirement funds.

         (9) Wife's testimony again confirmed that she participated in two employer-sponsored retirement plans. It appears from the transcript that Wife brought documentation to the hearing about the respective values of her two retirement plans. The Family Court appears to have considered that information, but the documentation was not admitted into evidence and was not made part of the record for this Court's review on appeal. Wife testified that one of her plans was worth $16, ...

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