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Divided appeals court affirms denial of incapacity maintenance

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A woman with longstanding disabilities denied incapacity maintenance in her divorce judgment convinced one appellate judge that the trial court abused its discretion, but the majority affirmed the lower court’s decision.

Judges L. Mark Bailey and Terry Crone affirmed the trial court’s denial of Brenda Alexander’s motion to correct error in Brenda Alexander v. Donald Alexander, 32A05-1108-DR-417, in which she challenged the omission of an award for incapacity maintenance.

The Alexanders were married in 1996 and the divorce decree was issued in June 2011. In July, Brenda moved to correct error on the basis that the trial court had made findings that would have supported an award for incapacity or rehabilitative maintenance. A vocational therapist offered testimony that Brenda’s ability to support herself was materially impaired because of herniated discs, degenerative disc disease and carpal tunnel syndrome.

The majority noted that the wife is a college-educated accountant who receives disability payments, and that the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion when it chose not to adopt the opinion that she was entitled to incapacity maintenance, noting that she also received disability payments.

“The evidence before the trial court did not point solely to a conclusion opposite that reached. Although there was evidence that Wife had physical limitations and received disability payments, there was also evidence that she was college-educated, that she had recently provided child care for pay, and that her limitations would not entirely preclude sedentary work. We will not reverse a judgment merely because we might have, on the same evidence, reached a different conclusion,” Bailey wrote.

Dissenting Judge Patricia Riley said the court’s findings missed the point from McCormick v. McCormick, 780 N.E.2d 1220, 1224 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003): “The essential inquiry is whether the incapacitated spouse has the ability to support himself or herself.”

“In light of these special findings and without a determination of the effect of such disability payments on Brenda’s ability to support herself, I cannot conclude that the trial court properly exercised its discretion to deny Brenda an award of incapacity maintenance when its special findings would otherwise authorize an award,” Riley wrote. “Thus, the trial court’s denial of incapacity maintenance under these circumstances was contrary to law and an abuse of discretion. I would therefore remand to the trial court with instructions to determine the propriety of Brenda’s request for incapacity maintenance.”     

 

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