A Maryland Wife’s Lack of Proof of ‘Unconscionable Disparity’ of Income Allows Her Husband to Avoid an Indefinite Alimony Obligation

Hardee HatIn your alimony case in Maryland, whether you are the potential supporting spouse or the potential recipient spouse, it is important to go into the process understanding what Maryland law says about alimony. Maryland used to view alimony as a means for allowing the recipient spouse to maintain the standard of living she enjoyed during the marriage (or something close to it). Today, the law views alimony as a means to assist the recipient spouse in becoming self-supporting. That change affects many things, including the range of circumstances in which a recipient spouse is entitled to indefinite alimony. For reliable advice about how these legal rules of alimony might affect your case, talk to an experienced Maryland alimony attorney.

As an example of this legal rule and how it affects an outcome, there was the recent case of Richard and Rebecca. Richard and Rebecca’s relationship was one that became extremely complicated, to say the least. The couple separated in 2015 after nine years of marriage. That separation came on the heels of the husband’s arrest for theft. In this situation, though, it wasn’t just any theft. Richard stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Civil War-era artifacts from the wife’s family.

After a hearing, the trial judge ordered the husband to pay child support and to pay the wife indefinite alimony. The husband appealed, arguing that the trial judge miscalculated child support and that the judge should have awarded the wife no alimony at all.

The husband was able to win a reversal on the trial judge’s award of indefinite alimony to the wife. To understand why the husband was successful on this issue, it is important to understand the changes that have taken place in Maryland alimony law. After a 1980 Court of Appeals ruling, the focus of alimony changed from maintenance to rehabilitation. What that means in this context is that alimony is intended to aid the recipient spouse as she or he transitions into becoming a self-sufficient single person, rather than in maintaining the lifestyle she had during the marriage. As the Court of Appeals stated in a 1992 opinion, the “purpose of alimony is not to provide a lifetime pension, but where practicable to ease the transition for the parties from the joint married state to their new status as single people living apart and independently.”

Under these new rules for alimony, indefinite alimony is relatively rarely appropriate, with the law preferring fixed-term alimony. Indefinite alimony is only appropriate if the recipient spouse can prove that she “cannot reasonably be expected to make substantial progress toward becoming self-supporting” due to her “age, illness, infirmity, or disability;” or alternatively that, even after she becomes as self-supporting as possible, “the respective standards of living of the parties will be unconscionably disparate.”

In Richard’s case, the wife didn’t allege that she was too old, too sick, or otherwise disabled. “Unconscionably disparate” means that the gap is just so large as to be unfair. In other words, if, for example, a recipient spouse’s maximum level of self-sufficiency is a $60,000-per-year income, and the supporting spouse is making $1.5 million per year, indefinite alimony might be appropriate due to the unconscionable disparity. The problem for Rebecca in her case was that she did not offer up evidence to demonstrate which degree of disparity would exist once she was as self-supporting as possible. Without that proof, the trial judge was not allowed to award indefinite alimony.

For reliable representation in your alimony or other family law case, reach out to experienced Maryland alimony attorney Anthony A. Fatemi. Our office has been helping spouses with divorce and related issues for many years. To find out how we can help you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Why a Maryland Husband Still Owed Alimony Even After Proving that His Ex-Wife Was Living With Her Romantic Partner, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb. 13, 2018

Obtaining a Change to Your Alimony in Maryland to Provide for a Longer Period of Payments, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 30, 2017

Photo Credit: Hal Jespersen, [CC0 License], via Wikimedia Commons

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