Alimony in Indiana: A Quick Guide

In Indiana, the word “alimony” isn’t used when it comes to divorcing couples. For the purposes of this article, we may use the word “alimony” to describe a person’s court-ordered financial provision for their ex-spouse, but be advised that Indiana terms this concept as “spousal maintenance” or some variant thereof.

Spousal maintenance is awarded in Indiana under certain circumstances. Using facts and circumstances that surround a particular case, a judge will determine whether temporary maintenance or indefinite spousal maintenance should be ordered. Judges use a large amount of discretion in these cases.

Types of Alimony in Indiana

Indefinite Maintenance

Your divorce court may order maintenance to be paid indefinitely in some instances. Here are some findings a court may use when determining whether or not maintenance will be awarded.

If the court finds a spouse to be physically or mentally incapacitated to the point where he or she cannot support themselves, the court may order maintenance to be necessary during the period of incapacity.

If the court finds that a spouse does not have sufficient property (this includes marital property awarded to the spouse) to provide for the spouse’s necessities, and the spouse has custody of the child whose mental or physical abilities require the custodial parent to forego working or finding a job, the court may find that spousal maintenance is needed for a certain period of time the court deems appropriate.

You can absolutely modify maintenance upon showing altered circumstances that make the current terms unreasonable. They must be substantial and continuing in nature.

Temporary Spousal Maintenance

The court may also award temporary spousal maintenance. The below factors are considered, and the court may find that rehabilitative maintenance for the spouse is necessary and appropriate. Temporary spousal maintenance will not go beyond three years from the final divorce decree.

These factors include:

  • The education level of each spouse at the time of the marriage and the time divorce began
  • If there was an interruption in the training, employment, or education of a spouse that occurred during the marriage as a result of child-rearing responsibilities, homemaking duties, or both
  • The earning power of each spouse, including their educational backgrounds, employment skills, experience working, training, and how long they’ve been in or out of the job market
  • The time and the expense necessary to get appropriate education or job training that will enable the spouse seeking maintenance to find sufficient employment.

Spousal Maintenance Agreements in Indiana

In addition to the court acknowledging evidence on spousal maintenance issues and then making an award for it, there may be some other factors that allow the two parties to agree to spousal maintenance that lasts longer than what the judge would normally award.  For instance, prenuptial agreements or property settlement agreements are contracts between the parties that could affect how long maintenance is ordered.

If both of the parties reach an agreement surrounding maintenance, the court will uphold these agreements so long as they were not reached by way of fraud or under duress. The parties must also have been of sound mind at the time they entered into any agreement.

Review of Evidence

Supposing the parties did enter into an agreement for the payment of maintenance, the judge will not be presented with the income of the parties, their education, or any other circumstances the court would normally review. This is because the courts will hold each party to the benefit of their bargain; that is, the court assumes the terms parties agreed to when the agreement was being made were sufficient and fair to both sides.

The court also will not review these other factors because it is assumed that both parties were aware of and understood the agreement they entered and its terms.

Any modification of such an agreement will require the party who requests the modification to make a strong case to be modified, as the parties likely leaned on the maintenance provision in the division and negotiation of other aspects of the marriage, like division of property. This cannot be modified unless there is a showing of a mutual error, fraud, or duress.

If no agreement regarding maintenance is reached and a request has been made to the court, the judge will hear evidence from both parties regarding the reasoning for the maintenance request, the parties’ income, their educational levels, their liabilities and assets, and any other factors relevant to the awarding of spousal maintenance.

How Long Does Alimony Last in Indiana?

Generally speaking, except for maintenance that surrounds incapacitation, the maximum time a court will require maintenance for is three years. If you are dealing with a legal separation, those can last only one year, so the maintenance award, if any is granted, would last only one year as well.

As a general rule of thumb, courts will award maintenance in very special and limited circumstances, so it is best not to count on getting an award once your divorce is finalized. Some of these special situations include:

  • Physical or mental incapacitation – If the spouse’s ability to care for themselves is materially affected, the court may order maintenance as necessary during the period of such a condition. However, it is dependent upon one spouse’s ability to work and the other’s ability to provide.
  • Children’s physical/mental incapacitation – Maintenance may be awarded if children are mentally and/or physically incapacitated and the spouse requesting maintenance must forego getting a job as a result
  • Lack of sufficient property – This includes marital property that can provide for the needs of the spouse
  • Rehabilitative Spousal Maintenance – educational levels, earning capacities, and the interruption of a spouse’s career, job or training due to childcare, or homemaking are examined in determining this award. This is the most common type of spousal maintenance that is awarded.

Can Alimony Be Changed in Indiana?

The short answer is that it depends. If both parties agree to spousal maintenance for a certain period of time, and there is no evidence that fraud or duress in reaching that agreement took place, then the answer is no.

If the court orders maintenance on its own, then a spousal maintenance award can be changed. In one case, Banks v. Banks, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the court’s alteration of the award of spousal maintenance. In that particular case, the court of appeals determined that the evidence presented was justification for reducing the husband’s physical incapacity maintenance payment from $500 each month to $40 each week, because his wife’s financial situation had improved a little while his own had weakened due to circumstances that were out of his control, specifically his own chronic ailment.

In some cases, a maintenance award is modifiable. The Indiana Court of Appeals has stated that once a spousal maintenance order has been executed, alterations can only occur if it can be shown that there are circumstances so substantial and ongoing that the original terms of the order are not reasonable.

In cases that deal with the incapacity of the former spouse or the incapacity of a child of the parties involved, it is more likely than not that the spousal maintenance award can be eliminated when the incapacity of the former spouse or child no longer exists.

For instance, if there was some type of syndrome, disease, or other similar mental or physical diagnosis that left a spouse unable to be employed gainfully, they can enter the workforce once more when their condition ceases, and the need for spousal maintenance is no longer reasonable. What’s more, if the incapacity continues, but the party is working and has the ability to support themselves, the spousal maintenance award can also be terminated or altered.

But what about other factors? Recently, the Indiana Court of Appeals had to decide if there were circumstances outside of a party facing the loss of his or her incapacity or becoming able to support themselves that would warrant the modification or elimination of a maintenance award.

In the case of Remarriage of Gertiser, the trial court ordered the husband to pay his wife, who was blind, a maintenance award of $1,182 per month. However, the wife was remarried to another individual, and the husband filed a petition to eliminate his obligation to pay spousal maintenance. He claimed that his wife had the financial means to support herself. He was also earning about $12,000 more per year at the time his petition was filed than he had been when the original maintenance award was issued.

On the wife’s side of things, she was still disabled and received Social Security Income, or SSI. She also worked on occasion at a part time job but did not earn more than $1,200 a year. The trial court ended up not modifying or altering the husband’s spousal maintenance obligation, as it was determined her earning power and incapacity had not seen improvement since the finalization of the divorce.

The husband appealed this decision, and after his appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the alteration.

The reasoning behind such a decision was that the focus of the statute for incapacity-based support was on the spouse’s ability to provide financial support for him or herself. Modification of a maintenance obligation is based upon a change in the receiving spouse’s income.

The court was eventually found to be abusing its discretion, because it had not considered the assets and income of a substantial amount that she and her new husband shared. Her new husband earned over $100,000 a year and they shared bank accounts and assets exceeding over a half-million dollars. It was then found that such a substantial and continuous change did warrant the termination of the former husband’s spousal maintenance obligation.

This is just one example of many when it comes to Indiana cases regarding spousal support. Your situation is very different and unique, so it is best to speak with your legal team regarding your own situation and modifying your support award or obligation.

How Is Alimony Calculated?

There are circumstances under which maintenance is awarded, as you have learned already. Also, it should be stated right away that there is no specific formula to calculate alimony in Indiana; rather, it depends upon each individual situation.

There are no specific parameters that determine how much support a court can order. The judge will do his or her duty to calculate an amount that allows both spouses to enjoy similar ways of living, considering how long that support might last, whether the supported spouse may be able to work while they retrain for a better career or refresh skills in the career they had before marriage, and what the tax ramifications would be on either side.

Maintenance will end automatically if either spouse dies or the supported spouse gets remarried. Otherwise, changes can only occur if the circumstances change in a way that is substantial and ongoing. To reiterate, these changes must be very drastic; a job loss, for instance, is one reason.

If a spouse fails to comply with their maintenance obligation, you may ask the judge to withhold money from the paycheck of the spouse so your maintenance funds can be sent directly to you.

What About Taxes and Maintenance?

Starting on January 1, 2019, the spouse who pays maintenance will no longer be able to deduct those payment amounts from their tax liability. The spouse who receives the payments will not have to pay taxes on the alimony payments they get.

Beforehand, the party paying maintenance was allowed to deduct their payments from their tax liabilities, and the party who received the funds would pay taxes on it because it counted as a form of income.

You will want to speak with your tax professional to wholly understand how this new tax law will affect you and your settlement agreement as a whole. As with maintenance, every situation is different.

In Closing

The maintenance situation of Indiana is different from any other state. To understand more about your specific situation, be sure to ask your legal counsel for advice.

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