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COA voids rehabilitation maintenance ordered after divorce

March 25, 2014

An ex-wife was not entitled to rehabilitation maintenance from her former husband that was approved after the dissolution of their marriage, a panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

“We conclude that the Indiana Code requires the trial court to make a maintenance determination at the time that the final dissolution decree is entered,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the panel in Marjorie O. Lesley v. Robert T. Lesley, 79A02-1305-DR-472.

When the couple divorced, Tippecanoe Superior Judge Thomas H. Busch found that Marjorie Lesley didn’t present sufficient evidence to establish she was entitled to maintenance, but he indicated the court would revisit the issue after a determination of disability from the Social Security Administration. After SSA determined she was disabled, maintenance was granted with husband ordered to pay until their youngest child’s emancipation.

Husband and wife both appealed, with Marjorie arguing she was entitled to incapacity maintenance, and Robert claiming the court had no authority to re-evaluate its original decision not to grant maintenance.

“We further conclude that because the trial court found in the final dissolution decree that Wife failed to carry her burden to show that she was incapacitated, it did not have the authority to revisit the issue based upon a postdissolution decision from the SSA. Accordingly, we reverse the portion of the trial court’s order granting Wife maintenance and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, including all necessary recalculations,” Crone wrote in an opinion joined by Judge Edward Najam.

“As a matter of law, the trial court could not retain authority to reevaluate, postpone, or defer that determination based on a subsequent decision from the SSA,” the majority wrote.

Judge John Baker concurred with a separate opinion, explaining that the trial court could have reserved its judgment on the maintenance issue and effected its intent by continuing the hearing at which the final order was issued until after SSA’s disability determination.   


 

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