When is Indefinite Alimony Appropriate in Maryland?

In Maryland and elsewhere, disagreements over alimony can be the subject of very heated lawsuits. In a recent case, an appellate court looked at the marriage of a couple that married in 1990. The husband adopted the wife’s son from a prior marriage. At the time of the wedding, the wife was working as a medical secretary and she had a high school diploma and some community college. The couple decided she could resign and take on part time work in order to be a primary caretaker for the son. The wife also managed the finances and lived a fairly active life, in spite of fibromyalgia.

They satisfied a 30 year mortgage in ten years. They didn’t have outstanding debts and lived a comfortable middle class lifestyle. They purchased a second home from the husband’s parents and amassed $200,000 in a joint savings account. They started to have marital problems within the first five years of their marriage. The wife disapproved of the husband’s disciplining of their son.

Because of the wife’s issue with the husband losing his temper and disciplining the son, she and the son moved out of the house and moved in with her parents for a period. She came back to the marital home and they sought counseling from a pastor. Shortly after moving into the second house, the wife woke up with severe back pain, caused by a ruptured disc. This worsened her fibromyalgia. She couldn’t care for her son or the house the way she could before.

The husband criticized the wife for her failure to maintain the house the way she had and failing to make him dinner. The couple’s arguments got worse and the wife tried to leave. The husband stopped her and the wife had to call 911. She and the son moved into her mother’s house and she withdrew half the savings from the joint savings account. The money was used towards the family dog, to help her son with legal troubles and to help support her grandchild.

The husband placed the rest of the money from the account into a separate account listing his own parents as beneficiaries. He tried to reconcile with his wife and ultimately they decided to reunite. During a second honeymoon, however, the conflict returned. The wife left again after a heated fight that included her mother.

The wife filed for divorce. The court granted the divorce and granted the wife indefinite alimony, a monetary award, an interest in her husband’s pensions, and attorneys’ fees. The court also ruled that proceeds from the sale of the marital home and the other property would be evenly split. The judge found the wife to have a disability.

The husband moved for a new trial arguing that the trial court’s ruling was erroneous and was outweighed by the evidence. He also appealed. Both parties presented five questions for appellate review. Among the questions was whether the trial court had erred in awarding the wife indefinite alimony due to her disability.

The husband argued that the court erred in concluding his wife was permanently and totally disabled and that this affected its award of indefinite alimony. The wife had offered her Social Security Administration notices of disability benefits awards. Her attorney argued this created a nearly irrebuttable presumption of disability and inability to work.

The appellate court ruled that an SSA disability award letter by itself and testimony do not prove someone is unable to earn income through work related activity due to permanent and total disability. There are some social security disability recipients who can work part time and can earn some additional funds without losing disability status. It ordered the lower court to have both parties present additional evidence to support the wife’s claim of total and permanent disability and only then determine whether she deserved indefinite alimony.

If you are about to proceed with a difficult divorce or if you want to ask the court to modify a prior alimony or child support order, an experienced Maryland family law attorney can make a world of difference. Contact our office via the online form for a legal consultation.

More Blogs:

Terminating Parental Rights in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, August 6, 2013

When Can a Maryland Man Ask the Court for Genetic Testing, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 16, 2013

How Does Maryland Handle Foreign Custody Disputes? Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 12, 2013

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