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COA voids rehabilitation maintenance ordered after divorce

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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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  1. Indianapolis Bar Association President John Trimble and I are on the same page, but it is a very large page with plenty of room for others to join us. As my final Res Gestae article will express in more detail in a few days, the Great Recession hastened a fundamental and permanent sea change for the global legal service profession. Every state bar is facing the same existential questions that thrust the medical profession into national healthcare reform debates. The bench, bar, and law schools must comprehensively reconsider how we define the practice of law and what it means to access justice. If the three principals of the legal service profession do not recast the vision of their roles and responsibilities soon, the marketplace will dictate those roles and responsibilities without regard for the public interests that the legal profession professes to serve.

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