Court of Chancery Finds Child Support Claim Against Estate to be Time-Barred as the Time to File Started Running at Conception as Opposed to Birth

Delaware Fiduciary Litigation Blog

Posted July 8, 2013

Cummings v. The Estate of Ronald E. Lewis, C.A. No. 6948-VCP (June 17, 2003)

Plaintiff sought an award against the estate of her daughter’s father under Delaware’s after-born child statute, 12 Del. C. § 301. Plaintiff maintains that the decedent, well-known boxing promoter and businessman Ronald E. “Butch” Lewis, fathered her child shortly before his death. A few months after Mr. Lewis died, Plaintiff filed a statement of claim with the Register of Wills for future child support. The Court of Chancery had previously stayed much of the case pending resolution of the child support claims in Family Court on the grounds that those claims were not ripe or sought advisory opinions.

The only request that the Court of Chancery allowed to go forward was the estate’s request for a declaratory judgment that the Plaintiff’s child support claims are time-barred by 12 Del. C. § 2102(a). Section 2102(a) states that all claims that arose before the death of a decedent must be made against the decedent’s estate within eight months after his death. Plaintiff contended that her claim was timely because it was asserted within six months of the birth of her daughter. For support, Plaintiff cited to Section 2012(b)’s language that “[a]ll claims against a decedent’s estate which arise at or after the death of the decedent” are barred against the estate “within 6 months after [the claim] arises.”

The Court, however, relied on the language of Section 2102(a) and found that the Plaintiff’s child support claim was time-barred. The Court held that the clock started running from conception instead of birth on the basis that Section 2012(a) had contemplated circumstances like the present one by stating that it pertains to all claims whether “due or to become due, absolute or contingent.” The Court concluded that the child support claim was a contingent claim that had arisen before Mr. Lewis had died.

Notably, the Court explained that this result was not unduly harsh as Plaintiff could have fairly easily made a claim against the estate while she was pregnant.

Follow-up note: On July 16, 2013, the Court of Chancery certified Plaintiff's proposed interlocutory appeal. See


William M. Kelleher, Director
Gordon, Fournaris & Mammarella, P.A.