Family Law Case Review 2/17/11

Case: Alexander R. Pala v. Annare L. Pala Loubser

Case Summary by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham McHale LLP

HELD: Court of Appeals affirms the trial court’s post-decree termination of an incapacity-based spousal maintenance provision of the parties’ decree, based upon evidence of changes in health and financial circumstances.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

Ex-Husband and Ex-Wife married in 1994, and divorced in 2003. Ex-Husband is an achondroplastic dwarf, which condition can cause a variety of health problems. Ex-Wife is a physical therapist.

In the parties’ 2003 divorce, the trial court awarded Ex-Husband 73% of the marital estate, which included the parties’ marital residence and a nearby rental property. In addition, after noting Ex-Husband’s unemployability due to his health, and Ex-Husband’s receipt of modest social security disability payments, Ex-Wife was ordered to pay incapacity-based maintenance of $1,200/mo, subject to further review by the court.

In 2008, Ex-Wife moved to terminate spousal maintenance, asserting that Ex-Husband was not incapable of supporting himself, and that his financial situation was better than Ex-Wife’s. After a hearing in early 2010, the trial court made findings that Ex-Husband’s social security disability payments had increased, that his rental property had been sold on contract and generates $500/mo, and that Ex-Husband had $50,000 in savings. Further, the trial court found that Ex-Husband had not visited a physician in over two years. Based upon these findings, the trial court ordered that Ex-Wife’s spousal maintenance payments would reduce from $1,200/mo to $600 for a period of six months, then to $300/mo for an additional six months, after which spousal maintenance would terminate. Ex-Husband appealed.

The Court of Appeals noted that the burden for modifying the maintenance order rested with Ex-Wife; however, the decision of whether to grant the modification rested with the discretion of the trial court. Reviewing the evidence presented to the trial court, the Court of Appeals agreed that the evidence supported a finding that Ex-Husband’s health had improved, and that Ex-Wife’s income had decreased. As a result, the trial court’s termination of spousal maintenance was not clearly erroneous and, thus, it was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Alexander R. Pala v. Annare L. Pala Loubser

Leave a Reply