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Disability Does Not Automatically Lead to Spousal Maintenance

Finding ways to achieve financial stability after a divorce is one of the hardest adjustments former spouses must make. Earning more money is not necessarily a realistic possibility, at least in the short-term, but the division of marital property is supposed to help make this transition possible. Some spouses, though, have no realistic way to generate sufficient income, and may look to spousal maintenance to receive the money they need to live. Because spousal maintenance is distinct from alimony, Indiana only permits it in a few situations, and the duration is typically quite limited. Thus, this financial support should not be the primary means a person intends to sustain them.

In these situations, fighting for a greater share of the marital estate is often a more effective method of obtaining financial resources. However, spousal maintenance may still be an option worth considering in certain situations. A recent decision by an Indiana court of appeals highlights how restricted this relief is for a financially disadvantaged spouse. A split panel upheld the trial court’s denial of spousal maintenance and specifically ruled that being a recipient of Social Security Disability benefits did not automatically mean a person was incapacitated, a basis for spousal maintenance under Indiana law. Knowing when spousal maintenance might be an option in a divorce is important for crafting an appropriate strategy, and the rules on when this support may be ordered will follow below.

Grounds for Spousal Maintenance

Indiana law permits a court to award spousal maintenance in just three limited situations:

  • A spouse is mentally or physically incapacitated, and this limitation restricts his/her ability to generate financial support. Maintenance is only supposed to last as long as the incapacity is present, though permanent disability could result in a permanent maintenance award.
  • A spouse does not have enough property to provide for his/her needs and the spouse is unable to work because he/she is responsible for caring for a physically or mentally incapacitated child.
  • A spouse needs spousal maintenance for rehabilitative purposes so he/she has the opportunity to gain the education or training necessary to find an adequate job. This support may last no more than three years, and is dependent upon a court’s assessment of the following factors:
    • The education level of each spouse when married and when the divorce was filed;
    • Whether a spouse suspended working or education to care for children or the household;
    • Each spouse’s earning capacity; and
    • How long it will take the spouse to get the training or education he/she needs to find a job.

In addition, the spouses may agree to the payment of maintenance by mutual consent.

Can it be Modified?

Courts do have the authority to modify both ordered and agreed-to spousal maintenance obligations, but would likely be more reluctant to make changes to agreed-upon support, and typically use the terms of the settlement agreement to establish the reason for the maintenance and whether that reason is still valid. Otherwise, courts may modify spousal maintenance awards when there has been a material and continuing change in circumstances that was so significant the current arrangement is unreasonable. What meets this standard will vary by case, but a spouse finding a means of support or the end of the incapacity will likely justify a modification or termination of this obligation.

Contact an Indiana Divorce Attorney

Spousal support after divorce will be a hot issue, and you will need the advice of an experienced divorce attorney to properly address it. Christopher L. Arrington, P.C. understands the nuances of Indiana’s divorce laws, and will use this knowledge to get you the best possible outcome. Contact the Plainfield divorce attorney at (317) 745-4494 to schedule an appointment.

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