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Harold v. Harold

Supreme Court of Delaware

September 26, 2019

ADRIAN HAROLD, [1] Respondent Below, Appellant,
DOUG HAROLD, Petitioner Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: September 18, 2019

          Court Below – Family Court of the State of Delaware File No. CN91-10074 Petition No. 17-06166

          Before VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices.



         This 26th day of September, 2019, having considered the briefs and the record below, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) Adrian ("Wife") and Doug ("Husband") Harold married on January 5, 1991, separated on June 9, 2016, and divorced on November 15, 2017. Husband remarried on May 20, 2018. The Family Court retained jurisdiction over ancillary matters to divorce and held a final hearing on the merits on June 18, 2018. Both parties testified on their own behalf and called no other witnesses. Counsel represented Husband while Wife proceeded pro se.

         (2) At the time of divorce, Husband was fifty years old and in good health. Since 1991, he has worked as a claims adjuster for an insurance company and has a 401k and pension. He stipulated that his salary is $70, 500 while testifying that his bi-weekly paystubs equal $2, 738.62.[2] Wife was forty-nine years old. She worked for the State primarily as a tax auditor from 1991 until January 2006 when she left to start her own businesses as a realtor, life insurance agent, financial advisor, and tax preparer. While her businesses suffered a loss for many years, her 2017 tax returns show income of $23, 379.

         (3) The parties have three adult children. Two reside with Wife, where one works and another attends college. The parties own a marital residence with an outstanding mortgage of about $184, 000. They agreed to Husband retaining two cars, Wife retaining one, equally dividing Husband's 401k, and dividing personal items.

         (4) During the hearing, Husband wanted the marital residence sold and the proceeds divided equally while Wife sought to stay in the residence. Husband argued that Wife was underemployed and testified about her prior salary with the State. Husband also sought to include his credit card debts as marital debts. Wife sought alimony, court costs, and attorneys' fees.

         (5) After the hearing, the Family Court decided to sell the marital residence and to divide the proceeds equally, divided some of the Husband's credit card debts because they were marital debts, denied Wife alimony because she was not dependent, and did not address Wife's request for court costs and attorneys' fees.

         (6) On appeal, Wife argues that the Family Court erred because it split the marital property equally based on an erroneous understanding that Wife agreed to an equal division, denied Wife alimony based on a miscalculation of the parties' incomes and estimated expenses, failed to address Husband's pension when dividing the marital property, treated Husband's credit card debts as marital debts, and failed to address Wife's request for costs and attorneys' fees.

         (7) On appeal from a Family Court decision, this Court reviews the facts and law in addition to the Trial Judge's inferences and deductions.[3] We will not disturb factual findings "unless they are clearly wrong and justice requires their overturn." [4] Nor will we substitute our 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."[6] "If the law was correctly applied, we review for an abuse of discretion."[7]

         (8) Wife first argues that because the Family Court mistakenly found that she agreed to divide all property equally, the Family Court failed to perform a full analysis of the factors under 13 Del. C. § 1513. The statute allows the Family Court to "equitably divide . . . the marital property between the parties . . . in such proportions as the Court deems just after considering all relevant factors."[8] The Family Court has "broad discretion to divide marital property in an equitable manner."[9]

         (9) The court stated in the Order that "[i]n their Ancillary Pretrial Stipulation, the parties agreed to a 50/50 percentage distribution, and during trial, Wife offered no opposition to Husband's position."[10] In the Stipulation, the parties agreed to divide the three cars, equally divide the 401k, keep their own bank accounts, and divide personal items.[11] They disagreed, however, on what to do with the marital residence, Husband's pension, and Husband's credit card debts.[12] At the hearing, Husband advocated for a 50/50 division in his opening statement.[13] While Wife did not interrupt the opening statement, both parties maintained their separate positions regarding the marital residence and credit card debts.[14] Thus, the court mistakenly held that Wife agreed to an equal split of the marital property.

         (10) Next, Wife argues that the Family Court miscalculated her income when determining alimony. We will not disturb the Family Court's alimony ruling if: "(1) its findings of fact are supported by the record; (2) its decision reflects due consideration of the statutory factors found in section 1512; and (3) its explanations, deductions and inferences are the product of a logical and deductive reasoning process."[15]

         (11) Wife contends that her salary should be $23, 379 based on her 2017 tax returns. Wife left her job with the State in January 2006 to start her own business.[16] Husband introduced evidence of Wife's anticipated 2006 salary of $43, 714.07, [17] in support of his argument that Wife was underemployed. [18] The Family Court determined that Wife was underemployed and attributed Wife with an annual income of $54, 250-the annual wage of 25% of accountants in Delaware[19]-"due to Wife's accounting degree, and [because] it closely resembles what Wife would have earned had she stayed employed or returned full-time to work in accounting."[20]

         (12) The Family Court may attribute income to an underemployed party.[21]But, the finding must have a basis in the record. The only evidence of underemployment was the evidence introduced by Husband of her anticipated 2006 salary of $43, 714.07 and his testimony about Wife's work ethic.[22] Instead of relying on the evidence of record, however, the court decided that Wife could return to work as an accountant.[23] The court then attributed income to Wife of $54, 250 based on government data that neither party relied upon or introduced, which was improper.[24]Because the attributed income was not supported by the record, the Family Court erred when it attributed an income of $54, 250 to Wife.

         (13) Wife also argues that the Family Court erred when it attributed income of $70, 500 to Husband when determining alimony. In the Ancillary Pretrial Stipulation, the parties stipulated that Husband's salary was $70, 500.[25] During the hearing, Husband testified about his recent pay stub for $2, 738.62, [26] which represents a $71, 204.12 annual salary.[27] Wife points to the parties' 2016 joint tax returns, which show that Husband earned $81, 178, but Husband testified that the excess was the result of overtime, and "[o]vertime is finished."[28] The Family Court did not err because it could conclude based on the record that Husband would have no more overtime and that the stipulated salary was appropriate.

         (14) As far as expenses, Wife argues that the Family Court erroneously lowered her expenses while refusing to lower Husband's expenses. We find that the Family Court erred when it calculated Wife's estimated expenses because the Order contains undisputed errors.[29]

         (15) Wife also argues that Husband's estimated expenses should be similarly reduced. The Family Court reduced seven of Wife's expenses by half because she was living with an employed, adult child.[30] The Family Court made a factual finding that "[a]s of this Order, neither party has remarried."[31] But Husband testified that he remarried on May 20, 2018, prior to the hearing.[32] The record is unclear, but Husband implies that he is living with his new spouse.[33] If Husband is cohabitating with an employed adult, the Family Court gave no reason why the logic applied to Wife's expenses does not apply to Husband's expenses.[34] Because the Family Court's finding that Husband was not remarried ...

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