Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Support Unconnected with Divorce

John and Daisy were proud of their independence. They married young and enjoyed the joy and privilege of watching both of their children grow up, marry and have children of their own. Their oldest granddaughter was engaged to be married, and John and Daisy looked forward to meeting their great grandchildren whenever they arrive. The couple lived modestly and well within their means. As children of the depression, they both knew how to be frugal. But, they also treated themselves to a vacation once a year and dinner out at least once a month. They enjoyed good health, and stayed active by walking at least one mile daily. Daisy was also careful about their diet, making sure that they always ate wholesome and healthy foods.

Life can change on a dime.

They were walking, as they always did, around the long block. John stumbled and fell. When he fell he hit his head on the sidewalk. Daisy did not panic. Instead, she knelt beside him and talked to him; somehow knowing that she had to keep him awake.. He was semi-coherent. She told him he would be fine, and quickly called 911 on her cell phone. A fire truck and ambulance arrived within minutes; loaded John on a gurney and took him to the hospital. Daisy rushed home and followed. After waiting and wondering for hours, Daisy learned that John would probably be fine. The bump on his head was minor, and there was no concussion. But he had suffered a stroke which had caused the fall to begin with. The doctor wanted to keep John at the hospital, at least overnight maybe longer. Over the next few days, John got better, mostly better. He could talk but didn't have the full use of one arm and one leg. He needed help to get around. The doctor told her it was encouraging that he was talking again so soon. Daisy and John's children came to visit, they both offered to stay in town until John was better. Daisy declined, told them that John is getting better and he'll be home soon.

The days turned into weeks. And although John was better -- his recovery was not complete. He still couldn't walk by himself, and his left arm didn't work at all. The doctor advised that John should go to a nursing home. Daisy knew all too well that most people that go to a nursing home never come out. She talked it over with both of her children. They both told her that she needs to rely on the doctor, and they both said they would come and stay with her and help in any way possible. John's recovery was slow, and the doctors released him to a nursing home as planned. Daisy went everyday to visit him. She sat with him and watched TV, told him news and gossip about family and friends, and tried to make him smile.

The first month that John's social security income was redirected to the nursing home, Daisy barely noticed being preoccupied with John's recovery and return home. The second month, she paid everything again herself from her check and their savings. John's social security was two thirds of their family income. And now his income was gone. She struggled to pay all the bills on her own. She asked her son and daughter for financial assistance, and they happily obliged. But, Daisy knew neither could afford to make up for her financial shortfall for very long. They had their own families and children to look after.

Visiting hours at the nursing home began at 10:00 in the morning. Daisy tried to maintain her usual daily routine, although it was hard without John by her side. She still walked the long walk around the block. Kept up her one mile a day. One fine morning as she was walking, she just couldn't go further by herself. Her thoughts wouldn't stop. She kept wondering how she was supposed to manage on her own. She knew in her heart that John would get better, and she knew it was up to her to make sure that he had a home to come back to. She stopped that day at the playground where the young mothers sit and watch their children play. She watched the little ones on the swings as she sat on the bench, thinking hard about what to do. Thinking too hard, most likely. Out of nowhere a bouncy ball landed in her lap. Startled she looked up and saw a happy toddler chasing after it, and an apologetic mom chasing the toddler.

Mom tossed the ball to her daughter, and sent her back out to play. The women started talking as women do, about their children and then about their lives and then about their husbands. It turned out the young mother was suddenly single, her husband having left for reasons unknown. The young mother was determined that he wouldn't get away with it, he was not just going to walk away from the family. She hoped he would come to his senses and come back. The young mother confided to Daisy that she had filed a Petition for Support Unconnected with Divorce. The young mother said she didn't know if she wanted a divorce or not, but she was quite sure she needed to feed the children. It occurred to Daisy that maybe she could file that too.

Daisy went to the law library to try to find the answer. The law clerks were helpful, but she still wasn't sure. Then she went on the internet and found out a little more. It wasn't clear whether this process would work in her own situation. Daisy then discovered that her local legal aid society had a walk -in legal clinic once a month, where attorneys would answer legal questions free of charge. She went. And here is what she learned:

Help for the Stay-at-Home Spouse when their partner has to move into a nursing home:

When one of the spouses can no longer live at home and must be moved to an assisted living facility, memory care facility, or nursing home, they usually become Medicaid patients which means that the government will pay all of their living and medical expenses at the facility, but will take their monthly income as reimbursement. Many times, this can leave the spouse remaining at home destitute.

Florida allows a person to file a Petition for Support Unconnected with Dissolution of Marriage (with no Dependent or Minor Children), Form 12.904(b). This allows the couple to remain married, but can be used as a method to ensure support.

This form may be used if a dissolution of marriage action has not been filed, and the spouse filing the Petition is requesting alimony, more recently referred to as “spousal support”. This Petition, Form 12.904(b), does not address the issues of property or debts. It only deals with support.

The stay-at-home spouse can file this Petition, along with the other documents required by the State of Florida to be filed at the same time, and the final result of this action would be for the Court to enter an Order directing that the income of the spouse moving to a facility (presumably Social Security and any type of retirement income) would first be paid to the spouse that is left behind, still living in the home that they shared. Any additional amounts of monthly retirement income that are not “awarded” to be paid to the stay-at-home spouse would be taken by the government, but at least the stay-at-home spouse will be taken care of.

Daisy was elated at the discovery. She filed it through the courts and was awarded support. Some of John's check still went to the nursing home, but Daisy was awarded enough to carry on. She knew that John was coming home, and without this support, he would not have a home to come home to.

Co-authored by Gayle Coffman and Ruth Tick

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