When a Settlement Agreement Will (and Won’t) Block a Spouse from Using the Maryland Courts to Obtain a Modification of Alimony

magnifying glassAs you go through the process of getting a divorce, there are several things to keep in mind. For one thing, it may be useful to resolve as many issues as possible directly between the spouses. However, if you do negotiate an agreement on alimony, property division, or other issues, it is important to understand that, just as with any other contract, details matter. To make sure that your agreement accurately reflects the deal you intended to forge with your ex-spouse, make sure that you have an experienced Maryland alimony lawyer on your side.

An example of the importance of details in an agreement was highlighted in the case of Michael and Nancy. The pair was a divorced couple locked in a legal battle regarding alimony. In 2010, when they divorced, they reached a court-mediated agreement regarding alimony. That agreement stated that the husband, an OB/GYN doctor who made nearly $290,000 per year, would pay the wife $5,500 per month for a period of six years.

In 2015, the wife returned to court, seeking to modify the terms of her alimony. During the marriage, the wife had earned a very small income and was also limited as a result of medical treatment related to her long-term cancer battle. At the time of the divorce, she was making $975 per month working for a non-profit music society. In her request for modification, the wife asserted that she had made concerted efforts to become self-supporting but had not been able to secure employment that would make her self-supporting. Based upon this, the wife asked the court to modify the alimony award to make the payments continue indefinitely.

The husband, in opposition to the change, argued that the parameters of the wife’s alimony were defined by the mediated agreement, and, because of that, alimony couldn’t be changed without the consent of both spouses. The magistrate concluded that the wife had successfully proven that she had experienced a change of circumstances, which is required before any Maryland court can make any modification of alimony, and that the wife was entitled to indefinite alimony in the amount of $4,000 per month.

The husband appealed but lost. The appellate court’s opinion is important in its rejection of the husband’s argument that, since he was paying alimony subject to a mutual agreement that contained a release clause, the courts no longer had the authority to alter the terms of the alimony. The husband was correct that, in some circumstances, alimony may be non-modifiable because of the terms of an agreement between the spouses. However, in order for that to be the case, the agreement must say explicitly and specifically “that the provisions with respect to alimony or spousal support are not subject to any court modification.”

This couple’s agreement regarding alimony did not contain language like that. The release paragraph, which was the term upon which the husband based his argument, was only a general release and waiver of liability. It lacked the sort of specific language that the law demanded that would have explicitly stated that the alimony award was not eligible for later modification by the courts. Since it didn’t have that language, the wife was entitled to seek and obtain the change to her alimony award that she received.

Whether you are contesting alimony, child custody, property division, or some other aspect of divorce, make sure you have knowledgeable Maryland legal counsel fighting for you. Experienced Maryland alimony attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been helping clients achieve successful results for many years. To find out how this office can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

How the Factors that Courts Can Consider Resulted in Imputing an Income of $300K+ in One Maryland Husband’s Alimony Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 13, 2017

Modification of Alimony in Maryland and When That Modification Can Apply Retroactively, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Aug. 17, 2017

Photo Credit: Clker-Free-Vector-Images, [CC0 License], via Pixabay

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