Is Divorce or Custody Mediation Right for You?

Mediation is an alternative to traditional litigation in the Family Court. It helps reduce conflict and provides the parties with a forum to resolve their own controversies outside of the Court's influence.  But mediation is not right for everyone.  

Mediation works best for people who can, and want, to make the important, life-altering decisions that come along with separation and divorce.  A mediator will not tell you what to do.  A mediator will, however, facilitate the difficult conversations that divorcing spouses or separating parents must have to divide property, decide support and/or create a parenting plan.  A mediator will provide a safe, open forum where each party is heard.  The mediator will facilitate the exchange of information and documents necessary for the parties to make informed decisions. Further, a mediator will help the parties brainstorm options and reach a fair and equitable agreement.

Mediation is a completely voluntary process that requires the involvement of both parties.  Mediation does not work unless both parties are engaged and motivated to find resolutions. If one party does not want to engage in the process, then it will not work.  

At The Yeager Law Firm, Julie H. Yeager, Esquire is a trained mediator in divorce and custody cases. If you are interested in mediation, please read the Mediation section on our website and contact the firm to schedule the initial mediation appointment.

5th Annual Combined Campaign Cup

The 5th Annual Golf and Tennis tournament to benefit the Combined Campaign for Justice held on July 17, 2017 at the DuPont Country Club was a tremendous success!  Thanks to the more than 200 golfers, tennis players, sponsors and volunteers, over $38,000 (after expenses) was raised to benefit Delaware's three legal services organizations: Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (CLASI), Delaware Volunteer Legal Services, Inc. (DVLS), and Legal Services Corporation of Delaware, Inc. (LSCD). These organizations provide legal services to those in need who cannot afford to hire an attorney. The Yeager Law Firm, LLC participated in both the golf and tennis tournaments as a Birdie Sponsor. Julie H. Yeager, Esquire volunteers as a chair on the committee that organizes the annual event.

How to Appeal a Commissioner's Order in the Delaware Family Court

A Commissioner or Judge presides over every hearing in the Delaware Family Court, depending on the type of filing.  The Commissioners hear a multitude of petitions and motions each year.  The most common include: petition for child support or a petition to modify child support, petition for order of protection from abuse or a motion to modify an order of protection from abuse, and a motion for temporary visitation.  After your hearing, you will receive a written decision issued by the Commissioner.  If you do not agree with the Commissioner's decision, you may have a right to appeal it.  Your appeal is called a "Request for Review of Commissioner's Order".  

ELIGIBILITY: To be eligible to file an appeal, you must have appeared in Family Court and had a contested hearing.  If the parties reached an agreement or you failed to appear for your hearing, you cannot file a Request for Review of Commissioner's Order.  

FORMAT: In the Request for Review of Commissioner's Order, you will list all of your objections to the Commissioner's Order.  You may use Form 455 on the Family Court website, if unrepresented. 

TIMING: The timing for your appeal is also important.  You only have 30 days from the date of the Commissioner's Order to file an appeal.  This is a firm deadline.  Your opponent is given 10 days to file a response.  

COST: When considering whether to file an appeal, cost is always a consideration.  The filing fee for a Request for Review of Commissioner's Order is presently $110, plus the appealing party must pay to have a transcript of the underlying hearing prepared.  The cost for the transcript depends on the length of the hearing.  

LEGAL STANDARD: A Judge will consider your written objections.  If the Commissioner's decision is considered a final order, then the judge will use a de novo standard.  "De novo" means to start from the beginning or anew in Latin.  The Judge may accept or reject the Commissioner's decision in whole or part. The Judge may receive further evidence or remand the case back to the Commissioner with instructions.  If the Commissioner's Order is an interim decision, then the judge will only reconsider the decision where it is shown that the Commissioner's Order is based upon findings of fact that are clearly erroneous, contrary to law, or an abuse of discretion.  10 Del. C. § 915(d) and Family Court Civil Procedure Rule 53.1.

Consider scheduling an initial consultation with a family law attorney who specializes in this area to discuss your options.

School Choice Dispute

Parents who are unmarried, separated or divorced may disagree about how to raise their children, and specifically where to send them to school.  While the Delaware Family Court very much prefers for parents to discuss their children's educational options objectively and come to a consensus about where to send their children to school, this is not always possible for a multitude of reasons.  In situations where the parents reach an impasse, the Family Court has jurisdiction to vest authority in one parent to enroll a child in an eligible school over the other parent's objection. 

In a school choice dispute, the parents have the option to engage in alternative dispute resolution with a trained arbitrator or mediator versus appearing in Family Court for a hearing before a judge.  There are many benefits to alternative dispute resolution.  But it is voluntary, which means both parents must agree to go this route.  Accordingly, one parent may be forced to file a Petition for Custody or a Petition to Modify a Custody Order, seeking sole custody, primary residence or final decision-making authority over educational decisions.  If you appear before a judge, there are a number of factors the judge is required to consider, including but not limited to, the wishes of the parents and children, the children's adjustment to home school and community, and past and present compliance of the parents with their parental responsibilities and obligations.  If the child is of an appropriate age and maturity level, the judge can interview the child about his or wishes at either parent's request.  

Historically, Delaware Family Court judges have shown an unwillingness to order a child to attend a private school over the other parent's objection, except in situations where the public school cannot meet the individualized special needs of a child and the parents have the financial ability to afford private school tuition.  But this is changing.  In a recent decision by Chief Judge Michael K. Newell of the Family Court, the Court awarded the mother with final decision-making authority over educational decisions with full knowledge that she intended enroll her child in a private school over the father's objection.  Chief Judge Newell distinguished the prior case law to the contrary on the bases that the child had attended the private school in question since he was four years old, the father did not oppose the decision to send his child to private school during the parties' marriage, and another disruption or transition for the child would not be in his best interest.  A.P. v. U.P., Del. Fam., File No. CN14-01480, Newell, C.J. (Feb. 17, 2016)

School choice disputes are incredibly fact specific.   Consider scheduling an initial consultation with a family law attorney who specializes in this area to discuss your options.



Premarital Agreement: Is It Enforceable?

Not all premarital agreements are enforceable.  A premarital agreement is not enforceable if the party against whom enforcement is sought proves that:

  1. Such party did not execute the agreement voluntarily; or
  2. The agreement was unconscionable when it was executed and, before execution of the agreement, that party:
    • Was not provided a fair and reasonable disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party;
    • Did not voluntarily and expressly waive, in writing, any right to disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party beyond the disclosure provided; and
    • Did not have, or reasonably could not have had, an adequate knowledge of the property or financial obligations of the other party.

Moreover, the right of a child to support from either parent may not be adversely affected by a premarital agreement.  If you have a premarital agreement and waived child support or accepted a lower amount than you would receive pursuant to the Delaware Child Support Formula, this term is unenforceable. 

Consider scheduling an initial consultation with a family law attorney who specializes in this area to avoid any uncertainty about the enforceability of your premarital agreement.  

Premarital Agreement: Why Do I Need It?

Premarital agreements add certainty in the event of divorce.  These agreements can predetermine how marital and non-marital assets and debts will be distributed between the spouses and what alimony or spousal support will be paid.  They can also protect a spouse's assets from division and preserve them for the spouse's heirs. 

If you married without a premarital agreement, it is not too late.  You have the option of creating a postnuptial agreement to establish the same property and support obligations.

Consider scheduling an initial consultation with a family law attorney who specializes in this area to discuss your options. 


Premarital Agreement: What is It?

Controlled by Chapter 3 of Title 13 of the Delaware Code, a "premarital agreement" (or "PreNup" as it is often referred to in casual conversation) is an agreement between prospective spouses made in contemplation of marriage, and which becomes effective upon marriage.  A premarital agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties (notarized signatures is best practice).

Parties to a premarital agreement may contract with respect to:

  1. The rights and obligations of each of the parties in any of the property of either or both of them whenever and wherever acquired or located;
  2. The right to buy, sell, use, transfer, exchange, abandon, lease, consume, expend, assign, create a security interest in, mortgage, encumber, dispose of, or otherwise manage and control property;
  3. The disposition of property upon separation, marital dissolution, death, or the occurrence or nonoccurrence of any other event;
  4. The modification or elimination of spousal support or alimony;
  5. The making of a will, trust, or other arrangement to carry out the provisions of the agreement;
  6. The ownership rights in and disposition of the death benefit from a life insurance policy;
  7. The choice of law governing the construction of the agreement; and
  8. Any other matter, including their personal rights and obligations, not in violation of public policy or a statute imposing a criminal penalty.

There is one clear limit set by the Delaware Legislature on the parties' right to contract: the right of a child to support from either parent may not be adversely affected by a premarital agreement. 

After marriage, a premarital agreement may be amended or revoked only by a written agreement signed by the parties (notarized signatures is best practice).

Each party should retain an original, signed version of the premarital agreement for their records.

If you are getting marriage and have assets that need protecting, consider scheduling an initial consultation with a family law attorney who specializes in this area to draft your premarital agreement. 


Student Loans: Are They Marital Debt?

Section 1513 of Title 13 of the Delaware Code governs the disposition of marital property. In a proceeding for divorce or annulment, the Family Court shall, upon request of either party, equitably divide, distribute, and assign the marital property between the parties. This happens without regard to marital misconduct, in such proportions as the Court deems just after considering all relevant factors. 

"Marital property" is defined by statute. It includes all property acquired by either party subsequent to the marriage, irrespective of how it is titled, with certain enumerated exceptions. Those exceptions include gifts, except gifts between spouses, property acquired in exchange for property acquired prior to the marriage, property excluded by valid agreement of the parties, and the increase in value of property acquired prior to the marriage.  

The Family Court has consistently interpreted marital property to include both assets and debts. Accordingly, debts incurred by either party subsequent to the marriage, irrespective of how it is titled, may be divided by the Family Court ancillary to a divorce or annulment upon the request of either party. Marital debts can include mortgages, home equity loans, vehicle loans, loans against 401(k) plans, credit card debts, personal loans, and, yes, even student loans taken out in a spouse's name for his or her personal benefit or the benefit of his or her children.  

While the Court has discretion on how to divide a student loan debt, i.e. the percentage distribution between the parties, make no mistake, it will be considered part of the marital estate. That is, unless the parties have a valid agreement stating otherwise.

Spouses can reach an agreement as to how to divide certain assets and debts at any time -- prior, during or after the marriage. It is important to consult with an experienced lawyer to draft your agreement because not all contracts are deemed enforceable. You can click here and send us an email if you have questions about drafting a valid agreement for division of assets and/or debts.