How the Legal Concept of ‘Voluntary Impoverishment’ Can Affect Your Maryland Alimony Case

In 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.

The wife appealed the alimony award. Although the husband was able to defeat the wife’s case on appeal, both spouses’ unsuccessful arguments before the Court of Special Appeals are very useful for others going through divorce and alimony litigation.

The appeals court rejected the husband’s argument that the wife’s conduct amounted to something called “acquiescence,” and under that legal doctrine, the wife had waived her right to contest the trial judge’s findings regarding the wife’s voluntary impoverishment and the duration of alimony. The basis of the husband’s argument was that the wife, when she accepted the $969,000 monetary award, gave up her right to argue about alimony duration or her voluntary impoverishment.

The court explained that you, as a spouse, do not have to choose between accepting your monetary award or advancing your rights regarding alimony. The husband’s argument might have been successful if the wife was challenging the amount of the monetary award, but the basis of her appeal (alimony) was completely separate from the monetary award, so there was no waiver of her rights.

Nevertheless, she lost her appeal. The wife had a college degree and certification to teach preschool, as well as experience doing faux interior painting. Despite this education and experience, the trial court concluded that the wife had not, since the start of the divorce litigation, updated her resume, applied for any job, or made “any meaningful steps toward finding gainful employment.” All of these worked against her argument.

Additionally, the appeals court upheld the decision not to award permanent alimony. Maryland law says that alimony is only meant as a means to get a spouse to the point of self-sufficiency, and it is not meant to be a “lifetime pension.” Permanent alimony is only to be awarded in rare, special circumstances. This wife had not proven that she qualified under those special circumstances.

If you are involved in an alimony case, it is important to put forward a strong argument to achieve a favorable outcome under the law. Experienced Maryland alimony attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been helping spouses with their alimony issues 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:

How the Factors that Courts Can Consider Resulted in Imputing an Income of $300K+ in One Maryland Husband’s Alimony Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 13, 2017

Factors that Go Into a Decision to Impute Income in a Maryland Alimony Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 24, 2016


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