Trial Court Abused its Discretion Stipulating Wife Suffered from Incapacity

Case: Daylene M. (Atchison) Coleman v. Scott A. Atchison
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: In a divorce matter, the trial court abused its discretion when the parties stipulated that Wife suffered from an incapacity that materially affected Wife’s ability to be self-supporting, but then the trial court did not either order maintenance or offer findings in support of the extenuating circumstances that render maintenance inappropriate.

HELD: Trial court abused its discretion when it made a finding that Wife carried her burden of rebutting the presumption of an equal division of the marital estate, but then proceeded to divide the marital estate equally, anyway.

Husband and Wife married in 2000. Wife became disabled and stopped working in 2004. Wife began receiving Social Security disability payments in 2006. Husband has maintained steady employment throughout the marriage.

Wife filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in 2011. For the final hearing, the parties stipulated that Wife was incapacitated to a degree that materially affected her ability to support herself. After the hearing, the trial court’s decree made a finding that Wife had rebutted the 50/50 presumption and a deviation in her favor was appropriate, but then proceeded to divide the marital estate equally. The decree also ordered no maintenance, despite the parties’ stipulation on Wife’s incapacity. Wife appealed.

Reviewing the case law, the Court of Appeals noted that, once a finding (or, here, a stipulation) is made of an incapacity that materially affects the ability of a spouse to be self-supporting, the trial court has only limited room not to order maintenance. Since the trial court neither awarded maintenance, nor offered findings to support any extenuating circumstances for denying same, the issue was remanded for the trial court either to order maintenance or provide additional findings.

On the issue of the division of the marital estate, since the order dividing the marital estate equally could not be reconciled with the finding in favor of a deviation in Wife’s favor, the matter was remanded with instructions to award Wife more than 50% of the marital estate.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Daylene M. (Atchison) Coleman v. Scott A. Atchison


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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