When a court in Indiana issues a dissolution of marriage, it approves the divorce agreement as reached either by both parties through mediation or by the court following litigation or some combination of both.
These agreements encompass everything from child support and parenting time to division of property and spousal maintenance (also sometimes referred to as spousal support). These orders are final, and the only way they can be modified is through a request from the court for modification on the basis of a material change in circumstance.
In weighing recently a request for modification in Pohl v. Pohl, the Indiana Supreme Court noted the precedent for such action was established nearly 20 years ago in Voigt v. Voigt. The court recognized in that prohibition of modification of maintenance agreements may produce harsh results, but it is generally to be recognized unless the agreement so provides.
In this case, the Pohl divorce agreement did provide for further modification of the court, as it included the phrase “subject to further order of the court” with regard to spousal support.
Although the trial court ruled the maintenance order could not be modified, the state supreme court reversed and remanded, based on a substantial and continuing change in circumstance.
According to court records, the parties involved were married in 1991. The had one child together, born in 1995.
Throughout the majority of their marriage, wife was the primary wage earner. Husband had suffered a back injury, for which he was ultimately awarded Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, which to this day continue to be his sole source of individual income.
The pair divorced in 2009, and in so doing, entered a divorce settlement agreement. This agreement did not provide for spousal maintenance, something those involved say was an oversight. A few months later, they added an addendum to the agreement which provided for $4,000 in monthly maintenance to be paid by wife to husband. This agreement provided this monthly maintenance would be paid each month “until further order of the court or agreement of the parties.”
The agreement was drafted by husband’s divorce lawyer, and wife chose not to retain one, despite having the ability to easily afford it. She said she wanted to be “fair” and also keep the peace for the sake of her son.
She later filed a motion seeking to reduce the obligation from $4,000 each month to $1,000 each month. She noted husband’s yearly SSDI payments increased from $5,000 annually to $22,000 annually before the first payment became due. Secondly, husband had moved in with his fiancee, who made $100,000 each year and paid the couple’s mortgage.
Wife also during that time increased her income, from about $130,000 when the divorce was finalized to about $230,000 after receiving an advanced degree.
Trial court denied request to modify, concluding the agreement was not intended to allow for modification of spousal support, and could only be modified if wife could show fraud, duress or mistake.
She appealed, but the appellate court affirmed.
However, the state supreme court reversed. Although modification generally would not be allowed in this case, the agreement expressly indicated it was modifiable by its own terms.
This case underscores the importance of hiring an experienced Hammond divorce lawyer prior to reaching a final divorce agreement.
Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.
Pohl v. Pohl, Sept. 9, 2014, Indiana Supreme Court
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Nordness v. Faucheux – When Infidelity Destroys a Marriage, June 6, 2015, Hammond Divorce Attorney Blog