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Reybold v. Reybold

Supreme Court of Delaware

February 5, 2019

ETHAN REYBOLD, Petitioner Below, Appellant,
v.
DONNA REYBOLD, Respondent Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: November 28, 2018

          Court Below: Family Court of the State of Delaware File No. CK15-03151 (K) Petition Nos. 16-14085 and 17-03300

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

          ORDER

          JAMES T. VAUGHN, JR. JUSTICE

         On this 5th day of February 2019, upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the record on appeal, it appears that:

         (1) Appellant, Ethan Reybold (the "husband"), appeals from a Family Court Order granting Appellee, Donna Reybold (the "wife"), interim and permanent alimony.[1] The husband's sole claim on appeal is that the Family Court erred in ordering him to pay the wife interim and permanent alimony. He contends that the Family Court failed to give sufficient weight to his own personal, monthly financial deficit. He also contends that the Family Court did not properly adjust the wife's expenses.

         (2) The parties married on May 5, 2007, and divorced on September 1, 2016, resulting in a total marriage of nine years and four months. They had two children together (ages 11 and 7). The wife receives child support payments from the husband. For sixteen years, and during the nine-year marriage, the husband earned approximately $180, 000 annually as a used-car sales manager. During their divorce proceeding, the husband was fired from that job, but he found another in the same field, paying him $96, 000 annually. Sometime thereafter, he voluntarily left that job for another car-sales job (to be closer to his children), where he claims to earn $1, 500-$2, 000 a month before bonuses.

         (3) Three Family Court rulings are pertinent to this appeal.[2] In the first ruling, the court found that the wife was dependent and ordered the husband to pay interim and permanent alimony. The second and third rulings involved cross motions for reargument filed by the parties in which they challenged various issues in the prior rulings. In the second and third rulings, the court revised the amount of alimony awarded (based on various miscalculations in the prior rulings), but the court never deviated from its initial holding that the wife was dependent and, therefore, entitled to alimony from the husband. In each of these three rulings, the Family Court reiterated that it found that both parties lacked credibility.

         (4) The alimony award was calculated three times, in each of the Family Court's three rulings. In the first ruling, after the court analyzed all ten statutory factors required to be considered in determining dependency and awarding alimony, it awarded the wife interim alimony of $11, 066 and permanent alimony in the amount of $1, 006 per month for a period of fifty-four months (half the length of the parties' marriage). In the second ruling, alimony was recalculated based on a corrected child support figure and proper consideration of the wife's social security income. In that order the court awarded interim alimony in the amount of $400 per month retroactive to the wife's filing date for interim alimony. The court also intended to award $400 per month in permanent alimony for a period of fifty-four months, but that amount was misstated as $00. In the third ruling, alimony was again recalculated to take into account inputs not correctly considered in the earlier order. As a result of these recalculations, the court awarded interim alimony in the amount of $130 per month retroactive to the wife's filing date for interim alimony; permanent alimony in the amount of $130 per month for the period of September 22, 2017, to February 1, 2018; and permanent alimony beyond that in the amount of $1, 022 per month for fifty months. In the second order, the court had inputted the husband's monthly child support obligation in a field that called for his annual child support obligation. This was corrected in the third order. The third order also took into account a stipulation between the parties concerning child support.

         (5) When reviewing a decision of the Family Court to award alimony, this Court reviews "the facts and the law, as well as the inferences and deductions made by the trial judge."[3] Findings of facts will not be disturbed unless they are clearly wrong.[4] "Moreover, this Court will not substitute its own opinion for the inferences and deductions made by the Trial Judge where those inferences are supported by the record and are the product of an orderly and logical deductive process." [5]Conclusions of law are reviewed de novo, but if the law was correctly applied, the decision is reviewed for an abuse of discretion.[6] "The standard of review for an abuse of discretion is whether the Family Court's decision was arbitrary or capricious."[7]

         (6) In the absence of an agreement between the parties, the award of alimony in the case of a divorce is governed by 13 Del. C. § 1512. Section 1512 provides, "A party may be awarded alimony only if he or she is a dependent party after consideration of all the relevant factors contained in subsection (c) of this section."[8] Subsection (c) contains ten nonexclusive factors that the Family Court must consider to determine both dependency and the amount of alimony, if any.[9]However, "[t]here is no requirement that the Family Court equally weigh each factor. Instead, the Family Court must analyze and balance the factors to reach a prudent alimony award that is fair for both parties."[10]

         (7) The husband contends that the Family Court failed (1) to properly consider and weigh factor (7) of subsection (c), which directs the court to consider "[t]he ability of the other party to meet his or her needs while paying alimony, "[11]and (2) to "properly modify" the wife's expenses, which she admitted were inflated.[12] The Family Court, however, considered factor (7), along with all the other statutory factors, in its first ruling, and it reconsidered factor (7) in its second and third rulings based on changes (and corrections) to the husband's child support obligation and other adjustments. In the first ruling, the court also reduced the wife's current monthly expenses from $5, 065.72 (as claimed by her) to $3, 337.25, and the court used this reduced monthly expense figure when recalculating the alimony in the second and third rulings. In the first ruling, the court made several findings, which it repeated in the subsequent rulings, including that neither party was credible and that, throughout the litigation, neither party acted in good faith. In particular, it found that the husband had not been completely forthcoming about his earnings and that the wife's monthly expenses were "severely inflated."[13]

         (8) Because the husband's second argument is easily dealt with, we will address it first. The husband contends that the Family Court "did not properly modify [the wife's] expenses as it relates to her award of Interim Alimony, based on her own admission that she had inflated expenses and some expenses were actually paid by her parents during the time she would be eligible for Interim Alimony."[14]The Family Court, however, modified every expense category that was pointed out as being inflated or not paid by the wife. Other than the single quoted sentence above, the husband does not provide any support for his argument that the Family Court did not properly modify the wife's expenses. The adjustment of the wife's expenses was a factual finding; accordingly, we will not disturb the Family Court's finding because, given the record, it was not clearly wrong.[15]

         (9) In order to address fully the husband's first argument regarding factor (7), it is necessary to first summarize the Family Court's three rulings with respect to the husband's income and his ability to meet his needs. In the first ruling, the court found that although the husband currently earns between $1, 500 and $2, 000 per month (plus any bonuses received), he did not give any indication of the amount he would receive in bonuses, he previously earned about $96, 000 annually (but left that job voluntarily to take his current job), and for sixteen years (including during the nine-year marriage), he earned about $180, 000 per year. Next, the court found that "Husband's monthly expenses amount to $8, 194, including a rent payment that is high and an excessive car payment."[16] In this ruling, the court ordered the husband to pay the wife $1, 006 per month in permanent alimony.

         (10) In the second ruling, the court recalculated the alimony award (based on corrected child support figures) and clarified the other figures it used to calculate the amount of alimony. Because the husband's monthly expenses included his child support obligation, this change affected the analysis of the husband's ability to meet his needs under factor (7). For the purpose of the alimony calculation, the court attributed to the husband a "total monthly income, not including bonuses, [of] $8, 000," based on his prior income of $96, 000 per year.[17] The court also explained, "Husband's expenses are $8, 895. Husband has a monthly deficit of $895."[18]

         Despite the husband's monthly deficit, the Family Court found that he "is in a position to pay Wife $400 per month in alimony."[19] The court explained:

Husband has conceded that he is capable of earning bonuses in his line of work, and furthermore, that he has received bonuses and that traditionally, he has received them consistently. Prior to earning $96, 000 in 2016, Husband previously earned $179, 111 annually. In addition, Husband has several assets worth substantial sums of money.[20]

         (11) In the third ruling, the Family Court again recalculated the alimony award because of issues with, and changes to, the child support figure. As was the case with the second ruling, these changes affected the analysis of the husband's ability to meet his needs. The court first recalculated the alimony for the period beginning on September 22, 2017, and ending on February 1, 2018, the date at which point the husband's monthly child support obligation was reduced by the parties' stipulation (from $1, 913 to $1, 047). As to this period, the court had mistakenly entered the husband's monthly child support obligation ($1, 913) into the FinPlan[21]section that actually required the yearly total ($22, 956). This reduced the alimony for this period to just $130 per month.

         (12) Using the reduced child support obligation (and entering the annual amount), the court then recalculated the permanent alimony for February 1, 2018, and beyond, resulting in monthly alimony of $1, 022. The court explained that "the reduced child support increases Wife's monthly shortfall to $996."[22] Although the court noted that "Husband, based upon income and updated expenses, has a budget shortfall as well," the court did not state the amount of that shortfall.[23] The court reiterated two key findings from its prior two rulings: (1) that the husband's expenses were high, stating "his living expenses alone are more than double that of Wife and children combined"[24] and (2) that it "attributed Husband an income of $96, 000, "[25]giving essentially verbatim the reasons provided in the second ruling.[26] ...


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