Maryland Court Reviews Statutory Factors in Determining Alimony

When a couple decides to divorce, there are many important issues to address and resolve beforemonthly-fee-5-1108079-m the parties can move forward with their respective lives. Many of these matters involve important financial considerations, such as the amount and duration of alimony payments. Fortunately, Maryland law provides some guidance for courts to use when determining the question of alimony. But each divorce case presents a unique set of facts that tend to influence whether and to what extent a court will order alimony to one spouse or the other. If you are considering a divorce, it is important to protect your financial interests at the earliest stage in the process, and consult with an experienced family law attorney who is familiar with the laws affecting Maryland families.

In a recent divorce case, the court of appeals addressed many issues raised separately by both spouses. One of the items on appeal concerned the amount of alimony awarded to the wife. Here, the parties graduated from Yale Law School in the early 1980s. They each had jobs at prestigious law firms and got married in 1989. The wife became pregnant in 1990 and stopped working to take care of their twin boys. When she stopped working, her annual salary was $120,000. They had a third child in 1994. The husband continued to work and was earning over $800,000 per year by 2010. The family lived an affluent lifestyle. In 2010, however, the couple separated, and both parties filed for divorce.

After a five-day trial, the court issued multiple awards, one pertaining to alimony. After reviewing the evidence, the court found that the wife’s earning capacity was based on her salary from over 20 years earlier and that the husband failed to produce evidence to support his claim that the wife could earn between $30,000 and $40,000 per year. Further, the trial court determined that the wife’s monthly, unearned income was $5,813, and her expenses totaled $15,812, leaving her with a significant deficit. The court ultimately awarded the wife $14,191 in monthly alimony payments. The husband appealed the award, arguing, among other things, that the trial court erred when it failed to impute any earned income to the wife.

In affirming the alimony award, the appellate court reviewed Maryland’s alimony law, noting that it was required to consider not only the ability of the party who is seeking alimony to be wholly or self-supporting, but also the time that it would take for that party to gain sufficient education or training to find suitable employment. According to the court, the wife lacked the resources to pay for her ongoing expenses without additional income. As for her ability to earn a reasonable living, the court pointed out that she had not practiced law for over two decades, and she suffered from health issues as well as advanced age. The appeals court refused to find that the trial court abused its discretion by declining to impute earned income to the wife, considering the disparity of income between the parties, and that any job she could obtain now would be unlikely to “bridge that income and lifestyle gap.”

The court’s holding concerning alimony and imputed income is a good illustration of the complicated nature of sorting through financial matters in divorce. Parties anticipating a divorce are encouraged to contact Anthony A. Fatemi, a family law attorney, for representation and legal guidance.  Mr. Fatemi can be reached at (888) 519-2801 or  (301) 519-2801.

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