Should Indiana’s Spousal Maintenance Law Change?
January 2nd, 2019 by McNeely | Stephenson
If you’re a spouse who sacrificed a career to care for children and later divorces, you may get spousal support for only three years. If you’re back in the workforce after being absent for years, this isn’t much time to get your income to a level where you can comfortably support yourself. This part of Indiana family law has come under scrutiny and should be changed because of the unfairness it can cause.
This type of spousal maintenance (the term “alimony” isn’t used in Indiana law) is known as rehabilitative maintenance. It’s supposed to help “rehabilitate” a spouse whose unpaid job (possibly for decades) was to care for children and a household; it gives a three-year window of support while the spouse tries to get a job and earn a decent income.
The main problem with this system is seen in the cases of stay-at-home mothers and fathers who have been married, out of the workforce for long periods of time, and after a divorce they are older but earning an entry-level salary. The shorter the marriage and the less time without a paid job, the less harm is done. Under Indiana statute, a court may order maintenance for an indefinite time only if the spouse is physically or mentally incapacitated or must care for an incapacitated child, cannot work and lacks sufficient property to support herself.
There’s a pending state Senate resolution asking that this situation be studied and, if the results show a need, that the law be changed to make it easier to obtain more spousal support. The resolution passed the Senate Committee of the Judiciary in February but hasn’t made any progress since.
Lori Vanatsky of Zionsville put herself forward to show the limitations of the current law and testified to the committee. WTHR reports that after 25 years of marriage her husband left her and moved to North Carolina. The two agreed early in the marriage she should stay home to care for their children. The two have three children, one younger than 18 when the marriage ended.
She had been out of the workforce or underemployed for 22 years when she had to look for a job. She said she started at the bottom, making beginners’ wages. “It’s insanity to me that he’s able to walk away and not support his family,” Vanatsky testified.
Divorcing spouses can make part of a divorce agreement the requirement that a spouse be paid maintenance for a longer time frame. Given how weak Indiana law is, in order to get this type of arrangement a wife would probably have to give up other claims against a husband; in the end, looking at the total picture, the wife may not be that much ahead.
Ideally, Indiana divorce law should address fairness when a marriage breaks up. Current law isn’t fair to wives out of the workforce for extended periods of time and should be changed.
If you’re considering getting a divorce and have general questions about or want to know more about spousal maintenance, call us or contact McNeely Stephenson online today so we can discuss your situation confidentially during a consultation.