Articles Posted in Alimony

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.

gavelWhen you are negotiating a separation agreement, it is important to “sweat the small stuff,” or more advisably, retain an experienced Maryland divorce attorney to “sweat the small stuff” for you. Each detail in your agreement is binding, and small differences can have large impacts down the road in terms of things like alimony payments, child support, or other financial outcomes. With an experienced attorney working for you, you can make a fully informed and knowledgeable decision before you sign off on that settlement agreement.

One recent case focusing on a settlement agreement was the alimony dispute between Jonathan and Andrea, who finalized their divorce in 2011. During the divorce process, the couple worked out a Separation and Property Settlement Agreement. The agreement covered alimony and child support, among other things. The alimony provision in the agreement called for Jonathan to pay Andrea alimony for eight years (ending in December 2019). The alimony obligation could end earlier if any one of several events happened. Those included Jonathan’s death, Andrea’s death, Andrea’s remarriage, or Andrea’s cohabitation.

By the spring of 2016, Jonathan was back in court, seeking to have his alimony obligation terminated, along with reimbursement for some months of alimony that he’d already paid. Jonathan’s argument was that Andrea had been cohabitating with a man since August 2015, if not earlier. Based on the evidence the spouses presented, the trial judge concluded that Andrea was living with the man and that the two were in a long-term intimate relationship.

job applicationsIn Maryland, when a couple divorces, the law allows for an award of alimony to one spouse, but the law will also expect that spouse to do everything reasonable to make herself as self-supporting as possible. If that spouse isn’t making an effort to support herself, the courts are allowed to calculate alimony as if the spouse were earning an income. That can be true even if the supporting spouse earns a million dollars per year, and the recipient spouse has rarely ever made more than $20,000 annually. Thus, even if you make much more than your spouse, you may be able to argue voluntary impoverishment to reduce your alimony obligation. An experienced Maryland alimony attorney can help you navigate the process for litigating the issue of alimony and related matters like voluntary impoverishment.

A case in which a vast income disparity and voluntary impoverishment were issues was Charles and Pamela. The pair were married for roughly a decade and a half from the late 1990s until the 2010s. At the time of the couple’s divorce trial, Charles, who was the president of a successful auto dealership in Bethesda, was making $1.2 million per year. Pamela was not employed, having last worked as a pre-school teacher. During the marriage, she never made more than $29,000 annually and rarely more than $20,000.

At the trial’s conclusion, the Montgomery County Circuit Court judge ordered the husband to pay the wife almost $970,000, which the husband did in a timely fashion. The judge, however, rejected the wife’s request to award her permanent alimony. Instead, the court concluded that the wife had voluntarily impoverished herself by not working, imputed income to her in the amount of $20,000 per year, and ordered the husband to pay her $5,000 per month for 60 months.

calendarWhen you go through the legal process of getting a divorce, you almost certainly hope that the final resolution of your divorce case will provide a degree of closure. Sometimes, though, things change or things unfold in a way that you didn’t expect and your needs change. When that happens, the law provides an avenue for you to seek changes to things like alimony. Even when the court originally only gave you alimony for a specific, limited period of time, you may be able to get that changed to indefinite alimony. An experienced Maryland alimony attorney can guide you as you navigate the process of obtaining a modification of your alimony award.

The case in question was one in which the wife was able to obtain indefinite alimony through the modification process. A court in Talbot County granted the couple’s divorce in February 2014. At that time, the judge awarded the wife alimony in the amount of $750 per month, but only for a limited duration. Before the time period elapsed, the wife was back in court, asking for an increase in the amount of her monthly alimony and an extension of the duration of alimony. The wife argued that, during the course of the preceding months, her circumstances had changed. The trial judge accepted the wife’s arguments and modified her alimony. The judge did not increase the monthly amount but changed the award to indefinite alimony.

The husband appealed, but he lost. His argument, which did not win, was that the wife had not experienced a proper change in circumstances. In Maryland, you must have experienced a qualifying change in circumstances in order for a court even to consider granting you an increase in your alimony. There are various ways that you can establish that you have undergone the sort of changed circumstances recognized by Maryland law as allowing a modification. One way is to persuade the court that, without an increase in your alimony, a “harsh and inequitable” outcome would result.

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.

large houseIn many circumstances, a divorced spouse may experience a change in employment and, with it, a sizable change in income. When that happens, the law may allow a spouse who owes alimony to seek a modification of that alimony obligation. If, however, the supporting spouse has intentionally reduced or ended his earnings, the law allows the court to “impute income” to the supporting spouse, which means viewing his support obligations in light of the salary he was capable of earning, rather than what he actually took in. For one Montgomery County divorced couple, that rule meant imputing significant income to an ex-husband who, according to the courts, spent extravagantly on everything except making his alimony payments.

The case involved the prolonged Maryland divorce litigation of Dennis and Sheri, who divorced in 2010. Even after the final divorce decree, the couple continued to litigate financial issues. One of those issues was alimony. The original arrangement called for the husband to pay the wife $9,000 per month in alimony. At that time, the husband earned a salary bringing in several hundred thousand dollars per year.

A few years later, the husband asked the court to modify his alimony obligation. He argued that he had incurred a significant reduction in income and that this reduction necessitated a reduction in his alimony payments. The trial court ruled against the husband. Instead, the court agreed with the wife that the husband was voluntarily impoverished, and, based upon that voluntary impoverishment, the court was entitled to impute income, which it did to an amount in excess of $300,000. With the husband’s imputed income standing at more than $300,000 per year, the husband lacked a sufficient change of circumstances needed to trigger a modification of his alimony obligation.

wallet moneyA popular science fiction movie contained an oft-quoted line that admonished against being someone who “deals in absolutes.” This is often good advice when it comes to many types of legal matters, including alimony cases. It is also why the answer you may get from your Maryland divorce attorney to your alimony question is, “It depends.” For example, many cases in which a supporting spouse qualifies for a modification of spousal support also involve the imposition of a retroactive modification, but not always. In one recent case, the husband qualified for a suspension of his spousal support obligation but not for a retroactive modification because his spending habits after his job ended belied an inability to meet his obligations.

Robert and Mary Ann were a Montgomery County couple who had divorced. As part of their divorce case, they had reached a marital settlement agreement in 2014. That agreement stated that the husband would pay the wife alimony for a limited duration of time.

In most situations, you can file a petition with a court to seek a modification of your alimony. In order to be eligible for a modification, you have to show the judge that you’ve experienced a substantial and material change in your circumstances. The law gives you, as two divorcing spouses, the right to include in your marital settlement agreement terms that state when, if ever, a supporting spouse is eligible to go to court and seek a modification.

100 Dollar BillsIn 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.”

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graduationThe law in Maryland allows the courts to award spouses various types of alimony. One of these types is rehabilitative alimony. In Maryland, the basis for awarding rehabilitative alimony is a specific one. If, as occurred in one recent case decided by the Court of Special Appeals, the evidence brought to the trial court offers no proof of how the recipient spouse will enhance, through training or education, her ability to find suitable employment at the end of the award period, an award of rehabilitative alimony must be reversed.

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checkbookIn a case arising from a somewhat unusual marital settlement agreement, the Court of Special Appeals recently threw out a summary judgment order in favor of a husband who had persuaded the trial court that he had substantially complied with his financial obligations spelled out in that agreement. However, since the wife had presented enough evidence to raise a potentially triable case regarding whether a check she received from her husband was a payment under the agreement or a gift, the trial court should not have granted a summary judgment in favor of the husband.

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