Is a Disabled Spouse Entitled to Permanent Alimony?

Posted in Divorce
In a recent case, (J.E.V. v. K.V.), an issue arose as to whether a spouse with a history of mental and emotional problems is entitled to permanent alimony. As in any case, the specific facts lead to the ruling, and in this particular case, the court held that the wife, who had bipolar disorder, was only entitled to limited duration alimony for a term of ten years.
 
The parties were married for nine and a half years, had two children and during the marriage, the wife began experiencing a great deal of anxiety and was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At the divorce trial, her psychiatrist testified that she might be able to get a job, but she might not be able to retain it. The psychiatrist also testified that 80-85% of the patients he treated for bipolar disorder had jobs. In the case of this particular wife, she refused to take the prescribed medications because they made her gain weight.
 
Both parties hired vocational experts to testify as to the wife’s ability to become employed. Her expert concluded that she was unemployable. The husband’s expert testified that her past employment history demonstrated her ability to work. He concluded that she was capable of earning between $45,000 and $55,000 per year.
 
The lower court awarded the wife limited duration alimony, finding that permanent alimony was not warranted in light of the intermediate term of the marriage, the wife’s age (37), the short period the parties enjoyed an affluent lifestyle, and an expert’s opinion that she could return to the workforce, since she was not totally and permanently disabled. The judge noted that throughout the 18-day trial, evidence was presented that the wife was fully involved in her children’s lives and that of the community. She traveled and her activities included tennis and fund raising. Throughout the trial, she took notes and consulted with her attorney.
 
The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s ruling finding that the term and amount of alimony was fair and equitable under the facts of this case.
 
Maria Imbalzano is the Co-Chair of Stark & Stark’s Divorce Group in the Lawrenceville, New Jersey office. For questions, please contact Ms. Imbalzano.