Landyn K. Harmon
Eynon Harmon Rocker & Glover, P.C.
Attorneys for Appellee
Dan A. Patterson
William M. Nash
Jones Patterson Tucker & Grogg
PHILLIPS, Alice Jean (Stuart),
Supreme Court No.
Court of Appeals No.
This case comes before the Court on a petition to transfer filed by
Alice Jean Phillips (Stuart) (Wife) and presents the question reserved in Voigt v.
Voigt, 670 N.E.2d 1271 (Ind. 1996), concerning the authority of a court to
modify a spousal maintenance agreement.
Voigt, we held that courts have no statutory authority to modify a
maintenance obligation that arises under a previously approved settlement agreement if the court
alone could not have initially imposed an identical obligation had the parties not
agreed to it. 670 N.E.2d at 1280. However, we expressly reserved
the question whether a court may modify a maintenance obligation that originated in
a settlement agreement but that rested on a groundincapacity, caregiving, or rehabilitationon which
the court, by statute, could have ordered the same maintenance absent an
agreement. Id. at n.13.
When the Stuarts marriage was dissolved, Donald Stuart (Husband) agreed to pay Wife
maintenance, and the agreement was incorporated into the final decree. A few
years later, Husband petitioned to modify the maintenance agreement. Wife moved to
dismiss the petition on grounds the trial court lacked authority to modify the
agreed maintenance obligation, and she cited our decision in
Voigt. The trial
court dismissed Husbands petition.
The Court of Appeals reversed.
Stuart v. Phillips, 723 N.E.2d 463 (Ind.
Ct. App. 2000). The Court of Appeals concluded that by expressly reserving
the question of whether a court may modify a settlement agreement grounded in
incapacity, caregiving, or rehabilitation, we had created an exception to the rule that
courts may not modify settlement agreements incorporated into the final decree. Stuart,
723 N.E.2d at 467. From this, the Court of Appeals held that
if the provision falls within the narrow parameters of maintenance orders that a
court may impose without agreement of the parties, then the agreement may be
subject to modification under the exception created by our supreme court in Voigt.
Id. (footnote omitted).
Voigt expressly left open the question whether the court may take this
action. We therefore disagree with the Court of Appeals that Voigt
resolves the issue.
While this case pended on transfer, the parties filed a joint motion to
dismiss the appeal, stating that their controversy had been settled and that Wife
had filed a release of judgment in Bartholomew Superior Court. Because the
parties have settled their dispute, it is not necessary to decide the question
Voigt, and the question remains open.
Accordingly, we grant transfer and vacate the Court of Appeals opinion .
All Justices concur.