Bad Romance: Blame the Quadriplegic
The following is reprinted from the May 2017 issue of D Magazine, in a section titled Bad Romance: Five Dallas lawyers dish on their most memorable divorce cases.
I represented a doctor’s wife several years ago in a divorce that should’ve just involved valuing the assets including husband’s medical practice and negotiating a division of those assets. Then it became a lot more complicated.
My client enjoyed partying on alcohol and recreational drugs. While the divorce was pending, she had a serious car wreck under the influence and was rendered a quadriplegic. She spent many months undergoing numerous surgeries, rehab, etc, delaying the divorce. Under Texas law, the parties have to be married 10 years for a spouse to qualify for alimony. We knew the case was getting close to the deadline when the wife could seek court-ordered alimony in addition to her share of the community estate. Since she was now disabled, she could also make the alimony permanent.
The other side asked for a trial date before the 10-year anniversary, then when that failed they argued that the date of filing was the stop date. We won that issue because they were obviously still married when the wife was seeking alimony. There is now case law that establishes this, but there wasn’t back then. Also, they attempted to argue that her disability was self-induced. That’s not quite intentional, but implies that she bore responsibility for her condition.
When the case finally went to a jury, we brought in experts to testify about my client’s disability, as well as her life span and medical expenses. It was obvious the jury sympathized with her. So the husband didn’t even put on his side of the case. He ended up settling for a LOT more than what 1) he originally offered her and 2) what she would have otherwise received in a division of community assets.
The settlement provided funds to care for her the rest of her life and give her a decent quality of life. This shows how a case can turn rabidly contentious because one party didn’t want to reward the other for something he had convinced himself was self-induced. A little compassion and understanding could have saved the husband a lot of money.