Maryland separation agreements can waive the parties’ right to have the court assume jurisdiction over modifications to spousal support. Removing the court’s power to modify a separation agreement can prove problematic in the event that one of the parties regrets the terms of the original separation agreement.
In a 2010 case, a husband and wife were married for about 32 years before getting a divorce. They agreed through a separation agreement that the husband would pay permanent alimony of $4000 per month until he terminated his employment at which point the wife would continue to get 50% of his post-employment income.
The couple agreed to waive the right to have the agreement modified. In exchange for permanent alimony, the wife waived her interest in a particular property. They also agreed that the alimony provision of the agreement would be merged into the divorce decree.
The court ordered the husband to pay alimony pursuant to the agreement. Neither party objected. Later the wife remarried. At that point, the husband filed a complaint asking for a modification or termination of the permanent alimony provision.
He argued that the divorce court had inappropriately ordered that the provisions on spousal support should not be subject to court modification on its own. The couple had made the separation agreement on the condition that they wouldn’t remarry. The couple had also waived their rights to have a court assume jurisdiction to modify the alimony provision.
The wife filed a motion to dismiss, which the court granted. The husband unsuccessfully appealed. At that time the appellate court affirmed the circuit court’s decision that the alimony provision could not be modified. The circuit court implemented an immediate earnings withholding order (a wage lien).
The husband again filed a complaint. He asked the court to strike its immediate earnings withholding order and asked for a judgment against the wife claiming she had unlawfully taken money from him for three years. The wife again moved to dismiss and again the court granted her motion.
The husband again appealed. The appellate court explained that the alimony provision of the agreement had been merged into the divorce decree. This meant that the parties’ rights related to alimony were conveyed in the divorce decree, not the separation agreement. While courts usually have the discretion to modify an alimony provision, the discretion doesn’t apply to instances where the parties chose to waive it.
However, between the husband’s first appeal and his second one, the appellate court ruled in a different case that unless language in the separation agreement or divorce decree expressly states that alimony continues after remarriage, alimony ends when the recipient remarries. The husband argued that in this case, the agreement didn’t expressly state that alimony would not terminate upon his wife’s remarriage. He asked that the earnings withholding order be stricken and argued his wages had been wrongfully withheld.
Usually trial courts may not retry something that has already been determined by the appellate court. But under exceptional circumstances the appellate court may reconsider an issue.
In this case, the appellate court ruled that public policy required it to find that alimony does not survive remarriage unless otherwise expressly agreed to by the parties. The appellate court reversed the judgment and terminated alimony.
If you and your spouse have decided to divorce, contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney for representation. Our office may be able to help you through this difficult time.
What is the Maryland “Bangs” Formula, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, October 24, 2013
Limited Divorce in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, September 17, 2013