Factors that Go Into a Decision to Impute Income in a Maryland Alimony Case

dollar billsThere are many factors that go into a Maryland alimony case. Courts must make decisions regarding recipient spouses’ needs, as well as paying spouses’ abilities to pay. Sometimes, these cases are made more complex when the recipient spouse hasn’t been in the workforce for years, or has a medical condition that limits her ability to work. In the case of one Bel Air couple, the Court of Special Appeals recently upheld a ruling that imputed an income of more than $20,000 to the wife, a stay-at-home-mom and cancer survivor. The wife lost this part of her appeal because the evidence before the trial court did not demonstrate that she was unable to work.

The couple in the case, Mark St. Cyr and Lauren St. Cyr, married in 1994. A year later, the wife delivered the couple’s first child and quit her $45,000-per-year assistant branch manager position to raise the daughter. The couple had two more children, in 1997 and 1999. The wife stayed at home, raising all three of the children. In 2009, doctors diagnosed the wife with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The wife underwent chemotherapy and bone marrow extraction, and her cancer eventually went into remission.

As part of the divorce case, the wife asked for alimony. At trial, the wife brought forward evidence of her medical issues, including her battles with cancer, mononucleosis, chronic fatigue, hypertension, and thyroid problems. She testified that she believed she was still unable to work, due to fatigue brought on by her conditions. The husband argued that the wife simply did not want to work, that she had made no efforts to find work, and that, although she could not return to work at the level of earnings where she left, she could obtain a $10-per-hour, 40-hour-per-week job. The trial court agreed with this and imputed an income of $20,800 to the wife for the purpose of calculating the amount of alimony she should receive.

The wife appealed the imputed income decision, but this part of the trial court’s ruling stood. In Maryland, trial courts are required to assess “all the factors necessary for a fair and equitable award” of alimony, including a recipient spouse’s ability to support herself, in whole or in part. As part of this process, courts can consider a recipient spouse’s potential income if the court decides that she is “voluntarily impoverished.”

The appeals court upheld the trial court’s conclusion that the wife was not, as a result of her medical conditions, incapable of working, even though she may have been that limited in the past. Simply because a spouse seeking alimony proves that she had medical problems does not automatically mean that she is unable to earn income. Trial judges can use many different factors to make decisions about a recipient spouse’s ability to work. These may include evidence of the spouse’s active lifestyle, testimony about the recipient’s unwillingness to work, and even the judge’s own observations. In the St. Cyrs’ case, the judge noted that the wife seemed to display no problems with fatigue at the trial (including engaging in lively verbal spars with the husband’s lawyer, “even at the end of long days” in court) and factored that direct observation into the determination that the wife was able to work.

Whether you are asserting a claim for alimony or defending against your spouse’s alimony claim, it is very important to protect yourself by reaching out to experienced local counsel. Anthony A. Fatemi is a skilled and knowledgeable Maryland alimony attorney with extensive experience representing husbands and wives in their alimony and other family law cases. For advice and advocacy upon which you can rely, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Divorce Over Age 50 Raises Unique Financial Concerns for Maryland Residents, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 27, 2016

Maryland Court Upholds Award of “Indefinite Alimony” to Wife, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 8, 2016

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