When one of your high-asset divorce clients is foreign-born and has difficulty with the English language, you likely will find your CFL Designation for Divorce Practitioners particularly helpful. As you probably already realize, international marriages are not that uncommon today, especially among military personnel. Even if you practice in one of the nine community property states, property settlements cannot be unconscionable. In the other states, they must be fair and equitable. Spousal support awards likewise must be sufficient to maintain your client’s pre-divorce standard of living.

All of these considerations make the advanced financial knowledge and training you gain by earning your CFL Designation for Divorce Practitioners especially important when your client lacks the verbal skills and/or requisite education to reasonably support himself or herself after the divorce.

The Supreme Court of Delaware addressed these precise issues in the 2018 case of Paul Macintosh, Jr. v. Isabella MacIntosh. The couple had originally met in Isabella’s home country of South Korea where Paul was stationed on one of his United States Air Force deployments. They married in Texas in 1990 and Isabella became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Initial Divorce Proceedings

At the time of the couple’s divorce in 2014, Paul was 54 years old and retired from the Air Force. Isabella was 55 years old, had only a sixth-grade Korean education, and still had not mastered the English language. In fact, she required an interpreter during the divorce proceedings.

Isabella had remained financially dependent on Paul during the entire 24 years of their marriage. She had stayed home to raise the couple’s two children, and had had no access to Paul’s bank accounts. Instead, he had given her a $350 “allowance” from each of his paychecks with which to pay household expenses. Over the years, Isabella had earned a modicum of income by doing seamstress work on Paul’s Air Force buddies’ uniforms. In the five years prior to the divorce, she had worked part-time as a daycare assistant, earning approximately $13,700 annually.

When Paul filed for divorce in 2014, Isabella attempted to hire her own attorney, but Paul retaliated by not only stopping her “allowance,” but also closing a savings account that contained over $2,000 of her earnings. After borrowing attorney’s fees from friends, Isabella consequently requested the trial court to grant her $1,750 in temporary monthly alimony, which the court did. The parties later stipulated to an alimony reduction of $1,300 per month, with Paul to continue paying for Isabella’s car insurance, cell phone and household necessities.

At trial, Isabella testified through an interpreter that the reason why she could not read or write English was because Paul had insisted she stay home and raise the children, and had likewise hindered all her attempts to take English and/or GED classes. She also testified that Paul had not wanted her to obtain employment outside the home.

Under these and additional circumstances, the trial court awarded Isabella permanent alimony of $2,200 per month and other property settlement relief. Both parties appealed, Paul alleging that the trial court exceeded its authority by granting Isabella a retroactive share of his military pension.

Supreme Court Decision

Citing Delaware case law, the Delaware Supreme Court noted that “the Family Court has broad discretion in the division of marital property, in general, and in disposing of pension benefits, in particular.” In this case, it declared that Paul had sufficient income to pay the household expenses without using his pension income, and therefore the trial court’s decision to award Isabella her retroactive share of Paul’s military pension was not an abuse of discretion.

The Court likewise rejected Paul’s argument that Isabella had a continuing “obligation to either pursue full time employment or the education required to obtain such employment.” It acknowledged that 13 Del. C. 1512(e) states that “any person awarded alimony has a continuing affirmative obligation to make good faith efforts to seek appropriate vocational training, if necessary, and employment,” but held that such section does not require the recipient to seek or obtain full time employment. It likewise held that “the Family Court’s factual determination [was] fully supported by the evidence,” and therefore fully affirmed the Family Court’s judgment.

For more information on how gaining your CFL Designation for Divorce Practitioners gives you the financial knowledge and skills you need to attract additional high-asset clients, plus other benefits of AACFL membership, please visit this page of our website.