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DIVORCE 73: Plaintiff filed a complaint for separate maintenance once husband was disabled.

In this case, Plaintiff filed a complaint for separate maintenance stating that she and defendant lived together as husband and wife for several decades until defendant suffered a stroke that required his placement in a nursing home. Plaintiff further alleged that if she ever became disabled her income and assets will be insufficient to support herself if the Defendant’s income and assets would be used to pay for his care in the nursing home or long-term care facility. But once on Medicaid, 100% of Defendant’s care needs will be met by his Medicaid benefits.

Support Order

Plaintiff asked the court to order defendant to pay spousal support in the amount of the total marital estate and assign his social security income to plaintiff. The parties stipulated to entry of a support order and, after a perfunctory hearing on the matter, the trial court entered the parties’ proposed order.

Reconsideration of Support Order

Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) moved for reconsideration of the support order. DHHS argued that the parties were attempting to evade Medicaid policy regarding eligibility for, and the extent of, long-term care benefit which were available only to those with minimal financial resources and that this Court had previously disapproved of similar schemes undertaken in probate proceedings. DHHS further argued that the support order did not comport with certain statutes and court rules governing separate maintenance actions or caselaw requiring equitable distribution of marital assets.

Trial Court

The trial court agreed that third-party intervention in domestic-relations matters was only permitted in limited circumstances that did not apply to DHHS, and denied DHHS’s motion for reconsideration. Plaintiff and defendant were the only proper parties in this action for separate maintenance. There was no suggestion that DHHS conspired with either party to defraud the other, so DHHS’s involvement in this case does not fall within the narrow fraud exception for third-party joinder.

Like any other person claiming to be adversely affected by the support order, DHHS had to pursue a remedy through means other than involvement in the divorce proceedings.

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