How does a Spouse’s Disability Affect Support Payments?

Disability Can Lead to Divorce

A spouse’s physical or mental disability can seriously affect a marriage.  Many marriages end in divorce because of the strain and stress put on a marriage by the disability.  In such situations the disabled spouse naturally wonders how he will make ends meet.  On the other hand, the spouse who is not disabled is wondering to what extent he will be required to take care of his ex.

What Happens When Disability is Contested?

In many divorce cases in Utah where one spouse is claiming an inability to work, the other spouse contests that claim and it becomes a focal point of the litigation.  When disability is contested several issues arise which must be settled before the court can enter an order regarding child support and alimony payments.

IME – When the ability of a spouse to work is at issue, the opposing party should request an independent medical examination under Rule 35 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure:  “When the mental or physical condition or attribute of a party or of a person in the custody or control of a party is in controversy, the court may order the party to submit to a physical or mental examination by a suitably licensed or certified examiner or to produce for examination the person in the party’s custody or control.”  The party who is requesting the IME must do so by way of a motion to the court. The IME will provide evidence to the court regarding the physical condition of the alleged disabled spouse and will help the court in making a ruling on how much should be awarded in support payments.

Vocational Assessment – A vocational assessment is the process used to determine a person’s ability to earn a living, including what their earning capacity should be and whether they can be self-sufficient.  The spouse who is claiming to be disabled will meet with an expert assessor who will issue an opinion regarding the spouse’s ability to work and earn a living.

The Court does not have to follow the recommendations of the experts who performed the IME and vocational assessment, but they are typically considered persuasive evidence.  Of course, the person claiming disability can provide his own rebuttal experts if he doesn’t agree with the results of the IME and the vocational assessment.

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