Does My Spouse’s Disability Matter in Divorce?
All relationships take work, and every couple will face times of challenge that will test the strength of the marriage. Adding in additional stressors, such as the disability of a spouse, can make keeping the relationship together even more challenging. Marriages end for all kinds of reasons, but a reasonable question may arise when a spouse has a limitation that affects his/her ability to navigate life. While courts cannot prevent a spouse from divorcing someone who will have issues working or taking care of his/her daily needs, they will not allow that person to exit the marriage with no means of support. What does this dynamic mean for the other spouse? Divorcing a spouse with disabilities or other special needs can impact alimony awards, property division, and even how the process proceeds.
Process of Divorce
An integral part of any legal case is the ability of all parties to participate in the process. Depending upon the type of disability a spouse has, his/her capacity may be in question or known to be compromised. In this situation, the court will not allow the case to proceed until a guardian is in place to represent the interests of the disabled spouse. The guardian most often will be a blood relative, but could also be a third-party appointed by the court. Regardless of how the guardian is added, this step will need to occur before the judge will allow the case to proceed in the interest of fairness.
Alimony, or spousal support, is the issue most likely to be affected by a spouse with a disability. Alimony is based upon the need of one spouse for support, and the ability of the other spouse to pay. Assuming both factors are present, a court is likely to order ongoing alimony to ensure the disabled spouse has the means to live. Normally, permanent alimony is reserved for marriages of long duration, classified as 17 years or longer under Florida law, but in cases of disability, a judge could award permanent alimony in shorter marriages if the disabled spouse would otherwise be left with insufficient resources. The facts of each case will dictate whether this type of alimony is appropriate, but the healthy spouse should at least expect to pay durational alimony, which is support for a set period of time, if the disabled spouse could gain self-sufficiency through government benefits or other sources.
The other area disability most often appears in divorce is property division. Florida law follows an equitable division model, which focuses on the type of distribution that would be most fair under the circumstances. While it starts with a presumption of equal division, factors are used by the court to decide if a different allocation is necessary, and disability of a spouse could certainly persuade the court that he/she needs a greater share of marital assets for financial stability. The healthy spouse would be best served by trying to settle these issues through negotiation or mediation to maintain some control over the outcome, and not leave it to the discretion of the court to decide. Working with an experienced divorce attorney is essential in this situation to obtain an appropriate result.
Contact a Florida Divorce Attorney
If you have questions about divorce, talk to a Florida divorce attorney today. Special circumstances, such as a disabled spouse, can significantly impact the approach and outcome of a case, and should be guided by a divorce attorney to ensure best results. The Orlando divorce attorneys at the Donna Hung Law Group understand the complexities of divorce, and are here to help you navigate the legal process. Contact the Orlando divorce firm at (407) 999-0099 for a consultation.