In a recent case from Montgomery County, the Court of Special Appeals was presented with a husband’s appeal of an alimony award that granted his ex-wife an indefinite award of five-figure-per-month alimony, even though the wife had a steady six-figure income. The alimony award survived the appeal because, even though the wife had a substantial and steady income, the disparity between the spouses’ respective incomes was so large that, without the award, the disparity would be “unconscionable.”
The husband was a very successful family law attorney. He made a little more than $1 million per year. The wife was a vice president of sales and marketing for a communications company. She earned $115,000 per year.
In the spring of 2014, the wife filed for divorce after six and half years of marriage. One of the key issues in the couple’s divorce trial was alimony. The court eventually awarded the wife indefinite alimony in the amount of $11,000 per month, and it also ordered the husband to pay $300,000 of the wife’s attorney’s fees. The alimony award, according to the trial court, was necessary to allow the wife to maintain the “high standard of living” that she had enjoyed during the marriage and that would be out of reach without alimony.
The husband fought the alimony award in an appeal, arguing that the wife’s income and financial situation were such that she would be self-supporting within two years, making an award of indefinite alimony like the one ordered in this case improper.
This argument lost because a recipient spouse’s status as self-supporting or not self-supporting is not the only factor in determining the proper amount and duration of alimony. Even if a recipient spouse is self-supporting, she can still be legally entitled to indefinite alimony in some situations. In this circumstance, the wife’s income was roughly 11 percent of the total household income during the marriage; the husband’s was 89 percent. While married, they “lived in an expensive Potomac home, drove luxury cars, took lavish vacations, had a nanny, and joined” a country club. This type of lifestyle, or anything near it, likely would not be possible for the wife after the divorce if she did not receive alimony.
Another area of dispute in the appeals case was the husband’s extra-marital affair during the marriage. The husband argued unsuccessfully that the alimony award was an improperly punitive one, resulting from his affair and its “role in the estrangement of the parties.”
Maryland, like most states, is a “no-fault” divorce state. This means that you do not have to allege something like abandonment, mental or physical cruelty, or adultery in order to seek a divorce; you only have to allege that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Even under the rules of “no-fault” divorce, however, the law allows judges to take into consideration things like one spouse’s infidelity when the judge makes certain decisions like an award of alimony.
In this case, the appeals court concluded that the alimony award was not punitive. The affair was only one of many pieces of evidence the trial court used in reaching its decision. It also explicitly relied upon the massive income disparity between the spouses, the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage, and the standard of living that would be available to the wife after the marriage without alimony. In this overall framework, the law allows for one spouse’s adultery to serve as one factor in determining the alimony award.
Maryland law generally favors temporary alimony over indefinite alimony. However, indefinite alimony is attainable in some circumstances (like those existing in this case). Achieving your desired result, especially when facing a legal rule that may disfavor your preferred outcome, generally requires having a strong case with significant evidence and persuasive legal arguments. Skilled Maryland alimony attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been helping clients put together these types of strong cases 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:
Maryland Court Rejects Alimony Award When Wife Wasn’t Pursuing Additional Training or Education, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 12, 2017
When to Challenge Your Contempt of Court Penalties in Your Maryland Family Law Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 28, 2016