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No abuse by trial court in modifying maintenance payment terms

June 4, 2014

The Indiana Court of Appeals held that a trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied a man’s petition to revoke spousal maintenance.

Michael Palmby agreed in May 2008 to pay his wife, Karen Palmby, $1,500 a month for two years as part of their divorce agreement. They had been married nearly 27 years and Karen Palmby mainly stayed home with their three children during the course of their marriage. The spousal maintenance was to help Karen Palmby obtain any training to reenter the workforce.

But Michael Palmby ended up paying about $12,000 because he lost significant income due to the housing downturn in 2008 and 2009. He was a Realtor making $120,000 when they divorced; he quit real estate and started working at a call center in 2013 making $50,000. Instead of using the money for work training, Karen Palmby used it to pay medical bills after she broke her arm. She obtained employment at a department store during the pendency of the divorce and has since received a promotion.

In 2013, she sought to recover the remaining money owed; Michael Palmby sought to end the maintenance because of a substantial and continuing change in his circumstances. The trial court decided that Michael Palmby should have $200 per paycheck garnished to pay for the spousal maintenance.

The Court of Appeals found that because the settlement agreement rested on a ground on which the trial court could have ordered the maintenance in the absence of an agreement, the trial court had the authority to modify the instant agreement with respect to rehabilitative maintenance.

The judges noted that Michael Palmby didn’t request a modification based on a substantial and continuing change in circumstances in December 2009 when he entered into an agreement acknowledging he was in contempt for failure to make the payments and had 10 percent of his paycheck garnished until the amount was paid in full.

“Mindful of the ‘great restraint’ which we should exercise in reviewing settlement agreements, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in denying Michael’s request to revoke the spousal maintenance and instead modified the payment terms of the accumulated rehabilitative maintenance,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote in Michael W. Palmby v. Karen M Palmby, 32A04-1310-DR-506.

 

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