If My Health Deteriorates Substantially, Will I Still Have To Pay My Alimony Obligation?

A recent Fourth District Court of Appeals case addressed a situation where a Husband's health deteriorated so much that he was no longer able to work and therefore could not pay his alimony obligation. In Garvey v. Garvey,

In 2000, the former husband and the former wife entered into the settlement agreement which provided, among other things, that the former husband would pay the former wife permanent periodic alimony of $5000 per month. At the time the agreement was entered, the former husband had MS1 and was employed full time.
The settlement agreement was silent as to the former husband's MS. In 2011, after the former wife filed a motion for contempt and enforcement related to alimony, the former husband filed his Supplemental Petition for Modification of Alimony. He alleged that due to his MS, he resigned from his position as a chief financial officer. He characterized the resignation as involuntary. He also alleged that he suffered an exacerbation of his condition in 2011 when he had an “MS attack and seizure,” and that “[d]ue to the advancement of the illness, the Former Husband has a continuing growth of lesions on his brain and spinal cord which results in unpredictable speech, physical and congnitive functions.”
The former wife counter-petitioned for attorney's fees and costs based on her need and the former husband's ability to pay. At a hearing on the petitions, the former husband testified to the following. When he was diagnosed, he was told MS was “very unpredictable,” but that he could lose his sight and ability to walk. He testified that about twelve years after his diagnosis, a doctor informed him he had “benign” MS and that there was no need for medication.
In 2011, he had an MS “attack.” This caused difficulty speaking and breathing and partial paralysis. After treatment, he was able to walk again. At the time of the hearing on the petitions, he was experiencing cognitive and emotional issues, fatigue, and problems with his balance and bladder control.

The trial court denied his petition to modify his alimony obligation, stating that his change in circumstances was foreseeable when he entered into the settlement agreement and was a contemplated event. The appellate court disagreed with the trial court.

The appellate court stated "generally, a deterioration in health can support a reduction in the alimony obligation." The appellate court found that there was a substantial change in circumstance and that there is no indication in the record that at the time he entered into the settlement agreement, the parties considered the possibility that the former husband's condition would deteriorate to the extent he would no longer be able to work. Record evidence indicates that although the former husband was diagnosed in 1986, he was still working full time when the parties entered into the settlement agreement in 2000, and he continued working full time for years afterward. The appellate court found the trial court erred in denying the modification petition based on its finding that the former husband was aware of the likelihood that his medical and financial conditions would worsen.

If you believe your health is deteriorating and would like to seek a modification of your alimony obligation, contact your expert family law attorney today to discuss your rights and responsibilities.