Divorce affects each family in a unique way. In most cases, however, the parties will have to address and resolve many emotional and financial matters. Some of the more significant financial issues concern child support, spousal support, and the division of marital property. Depending on the circumstances, one party may be entitled to spousal support (also known as “alimony”) from the other. Couples contemplating divorce are encouraged to consult with an experienced family law attorney early in the proceedings in order to ensure that their financial rights are protected. Since divorce is regulated by each state individually, it is important to contact a Maryland lawyer who is fully familiar with the local laws and procedures in this state.
Spouses have the ability to craft their own settlement agreement, which may contain provisions concerning alimony, including the amount, duration, and other limitations. In a recent Maryland case, the parties were married in 1966 and were granted an absolute divorce in 1985. In 1998, they signed an amendment to their voluntary separation and property settlement agreement that was incorporated into the divorce decree. The amendment provided, in pertinent part, that the husband would pay spousal support to the wife in the amount of $26,800 per year, in monthly installments, for as long as the parties live separate and apart, and until either the wife remarries or either party dies.
The clause further provided that it is not subject to modification by any court, with limited, identified exceptions. Finally, the provision included a waiver of the parties’ rights to have any court change or create a different provision for the wife’s support and maintenance. Despite this agreed-upon language, the husband sought to terminate alimony in order to avoid a “harsh and inequitable result,” alleging that he had become permanently disabled and cannot work and earn an income. The wife filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that he had waived his right to petition the court to modify spousal support and maintenance.
Under Maryland Code Section 11-108, alimony terminates, unless the parties agree otherwise, if one party dies, if the recipient remarries, or if the court determines that termination is necessary to avoid a harsh and inequitable result. The trial court dismissed the petition to terminate alimony, concluding that the termination provision in the parties’ settlement agreement prohibited the court from terminating the husband’s obligation to pay spousal support. The husband appealed. The court of appeals first noted that under Section 8-101(a), divorcing spouses may enter into agreements concerning alimony payments. The court reviewed Maryland case law, each party’s arguments, and the applicable statute and declined to terminate alimony. In so deciding, the court pointed out that the settlement agreement was clear that it was only terminable upon the wife’s remarriage or the death of either party. Furthermore, they had waived the right to have a court make any changes to the wife’s support and maintenance. The court refused to expand Maryland case law to cases in which the obligor petitions the court to terminate alimony in order to avoid a harsh and equitable result.
This case nicely illustrates the need to consult with an experienced family law attorney before you sign any document affecting your financial rights in divorce. Parties anticipating a divorce are encouraged to contact Anthony A. Fatemi, an experienced family law attorney, for representation and legal guidance. Mr. Fatemi can be reached at (888) 519-2801 or (301) 519-2801.
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