For many divorced parents who have children but whose children reside with their ex-spouse, paying both alimony and child support is part of life. If you’re one of those parents, you may struggle with meeting both of those financial obligations. If you have found that you no longer have the monetary means to pay both types of support at the amounts ordered by the court, make sure that you reach out to an experienced Maryland divorce attorney and investigate which options are available to you to keep you current on your obligations.
P.N. was one of those parents dealing with an arrearage in his court case. When his divorce was finalized in 2005, a Maryland trial court ordered him to pay “non-modifiable” alimony of $3,250 per month and $1,422 per month in child support. At the wife’s request, the husband’s alimony and child support sums were paid through wage garnishment.
The husband eventually fell behind on both alimony and child support, since he did not make enough to pay both obligations. Eventually, he went back to court to ask that, going forward, all the money that he paid be credited toward his child support obligation, and, only after that was satisfied, would anything be paid toward alimony. Maryland’s state agency responsible for distributing the sums garnished from the husband had a different way of handling things, however. The sums garnished from the husband’s income went roughly 70% for alimony and 30% for child support.
In his appeal, the husband argued that this was not right and that the trial court should order a different allocation of child support versus alimony. The Court of Special Appeals, however, stated that not only was the trial court not required to order such a reallocation of child support versus alimony, it couldn’t do so, even if the judge agreed with the husband.
This was because of a constitutional law concept called “separation of powers.” Generally speaking, this means that each of the three branches of government (the legislature, executive agencies, and the courts) are “co-equal.” As a result, there are many areas in which one branch cannot tell another branch how to perform its functions.
In Maryland, the administrative office that handles the collection and distribution of child support and alimony payments is a component of the state’s executive branch of government. As a result, a court order mandating how to allocate funds in terms of child support versus alimony would be an example of the judiciary branch telling the executive branch how to perform its executive tasks, and this would be forbidden by the separation of powers principle.
What can you do if your “non-modifiable” alimony is too much?
If you have experienced a significant and unexpected change in your income, and that change has left you unable to meet your court-ordered obligation for paying “non-modifiable” alimony, this constitutional barrier against getting a court-ordered reallocation does not mean that your situation is hopeless. You still have options.
One of these may be obtaining a court order terminating your alimony obligation. In 2003, the Court of Appeals ruled in a case in which the husband sought to terminate his non-modifiable alimony. In that ruling, the court stated that termination of alimony is separate and distinct from modification, so, just because an alimony obligation cannot be modified doesn’t mean that it cannot be terminated by a judge.
This may not be the only option. To find out exactly which choices exist for you regarding alimony or child support, you need knowledgeable counsel on your side. For that kind of useful advice and effective representation, reach out to skilled Maryland family law attorney Anthony A. Fatemi. Attorney Fatemi has many years of experience helping clients achieve helpful solutions to their alimony and child support issues. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.