For many ex-spouses who are also recipients of alimony as part of a Maryland divorce or annulment, that alimony money represents an important part of their monthly income. When it doesn’t come, the financial consequences can be serious. That’s why the law has processes set up to motivate your ex-spouse and hopefully expedite their paying you the unpaid sums you’re owed. If you’re not getting the alimony you should as part of your divorce or annulment, get in touch with a Maryland divorce lawyer right away.
Sometimes, these unpaid alimony arrearages can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Such was the case for one immigrant couple who settled in Montgomery County.
The husband and wife married in Egypt in 1976, then divorced in 1985. They remarried once again in 1986. Presumably unbeknownst to the wife, the husband had married another woman during the year-long divorce and remained married to her when he and the wife remarried.
Eighteen years later, the couple lived in Maryland and the wife sought an annulment of the marriage. In this state, there are several grounds upon which you can get an annulment. Some of those are automatic and others are cases where granting or denying the annulment occurs based on the discretion of the judge. Cases of bigamy, being very close blood relatives (“consanguinity”), and any other marriage explicitly barred by the Maryland Code are examples of automatic annulment situations. A judge has the discretion to grant an annulment when a spouse was underage, insane, intoxicated, tricked into marrying (“fraud”) or forced to marry (“duress”).
This wife had one of those automatic annulment bases, as she alleged bigamy. The trial judge granted the annulment in early January 2005 and ordered the husband to pay $5,750 per month in alimony. A year later, the spouses agreed to reduce that sum to $2,000 per month. Even with the lower obligation, the husband was not regular with his payments. He made only three payments in 2006 and none in the years after that.
Fast forward to the fall of 2019 and the wife filed a complaint in the trial court to get the unpaid alimony she was owed. She initially filed without an attorney but, after the husband made a motion to decrease alimony, she wisely retained an attorney to represent her.
At the hearing, the husband argued that Maryland’s statute of limitations law required the wife to bring her complaint within three years of the parties signing their alimony agreement or, in other words, by March 2009.
How Your Spouse’s Alimony Obligation May Be Subject to the Longer Limitations Period
The wife nevertheless prevailed. While it is true that Maryland generally imposes a three-year statute of limitations for bringing civil lawsuits, the law does recognize some exceptions. One of those is an action to enforce a judgment. That exception carries a 12-year limitations period. The husband contended that, because the wife sought to enforce the agreement and not the court’s judgment, the shorter deadline controlled.
The trial judge and the appeals court, however, sided with the wife. Contrary to the husband’s arguments, an agreement can become part of your divorce judgment even if the trial court never explicitly said so. The appeals court expressly said that no “magic words” are “necessary before a court can conclude that an agreement has become part of a judgment and has thus attained the status of a judgment.”
In this case, the agreement had become part of the judgment, so the wife was entitled to the benefit of the longer (12-year) limitations period. As a result of the wife’s success, the appeals court upheld the trial judge’s ruling that the husband still owed all of the alimony across the entire period or a total arrearage of $322,000.
Whether you’re needing to get your marriage annulled, get a judgment awarding you alimony, or take action to get back-owed alimony, you need a legal team that knows Maryland family law inside and out and knows how to get you the outcome you deserve. For that kind of legal representation, reach out to the experienced Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form right away so that we can get started working for you.