Family Law Review: B. Alexander v. D. Alexander

Case: Brenda Alexander v. Donald Alexander
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

The trial court acted within its discretion when it declined to award incapacity-based spousal maintenance to Wife, even though the trial court entered certain findings describing Wife’s physical disabilities.

Husband and Wife married in 1996. In 2009, Wife filed a petition for dissolution of marriage, which included a request for spousal maintenance.

At the final hearing, Wife offered evidence that she had been injured in 1987 and had continuously received disability payments from her former employer since then. Wife also presented testimony from a vocational therapist who rendered the opinion that Wife’s ability to support herself was materially impaired by her injuries. Neither party requested findings, but, in its Decree, the trial made several findings sua sponte, including that Wife was injured in the late 1980s, that the injury was exacerbated by subsequent car accidents, and that Wife “has physical limitations and has been out of the workforce since 1988.” However, despite entering these findings, the trial court did not award spousal maintenance to Wife. Wife appealed.

At the outset, the Court of Appeals noted that, to appeal a negative judgment successfully, the appellant “must show that the evidence points unerringly to a conclusion different from that reached” by the trial court. The Court recited the statutory-based test for incapacity based maintenance, which is that it is appropriate “only if [the trial court] finds a spouse to be physically or mentally incapacitated to the extent that his or her ability to support himself or herself is materially affected.”  The Court also referenced the Cannon case, which contains dicta supporting the proposition that, even if a trial court finds a party to be incapacitated to the extent the ability to be self-supporting is compromised, the trial court still has narrow discretion not to award maintenance. The Court also pointed to evidence in the record that Wife was college-educated, that she recently provided child care for pay, and that her physical limitations did not entirely preclude sedentary work.  Thus, the trial court’s decision not to award maintenance was within its discretion and affirmed.

Judge Riley dissented, reasoning that the trial court’s sua sponte findings concerning Wife’s physical limitations were so strong and seemingly supportive of an award of maintenance that she would have remanded the matter to the trial court with instructions to determine the propriety of Wife’s request for maintenance.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Brenda Alexander v. Donald Alexander

The Indiana Family Law Update is a free service provided by the Matrimonial Law Group of Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP. While significant efforts are made to ensure an accurate summary and reproduction of each opinion, readers are advised to verify all content and analysis with a traditional case law reporter before relying on the content and analysis offered here.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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