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United States District Court for the District of Maryland
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Bar Association of Montgomery County, Maryland

One of the more painful experiences a spouse can endure is to devote years — or even decades — to a marriage only to discover that your spouse has not been as faithful to you as you’ve been to them. While heartbreaking and sometimes infuriating, your spouse’s infidelity won’t always have much of an impact on the outcome of your divorce… but sometimes it will affect that outcome in a major way. To determine your rights and options if your spouse has been cheating, you need to speak to a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer.

Maryland is one of the states that recognizes both no-fault divorce and at-fault divorce. One of the grounds for absolute divorce under Maryland law is adultery. Even in a case of a divorce on the ground of adultery, that affair may not “move the needle” much in terms of the financial aspects of the court’s judgment. So, if an adulterous spouse is someone who earns only minimal income with few economic opportunities and little chance of becoming self-supporting and the “innocent” spouse has substantial wealth and income, the adulterous spouse may still be entitled to alimony and/or a monetary award, even if the infidelity was the reasons for the marriage’s breakdown.

There’s one scenario, however, where a spouse’s extramarital affair(s) can have a huge impact on those financial elements of divorce, and that circumstance was illustrated in a recent divorce case originating here in Montgomery County.

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In this blog, we’ve discussed in the past the importance of consulting a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer before you sign documents like prenuptial agreements, post-nuptial agreements, and marital settlement agreements, which can alter your ownership rights in various marital and/or non-marital assets. As a recent divorce case from Prince George’s County illustrates, even if you’re not signing a prenup or a settlement agreement, the need for experienced counsel exists any time you’re signing something that purports to alter your ownership rights in one or more assets.

The spouses in the Prince George’s County case, R.T. and B.J., married in 1988 and lived in a home in Clinton. 25 years later — in early February 2013 — the husband told the wife he desired to separate and to live in his own home. A few weeks later, the husband approached the wife about buying a residence in Cheltenham that would serve as his home.

The couple decided to execute three contracts, each of which was notarized. Together, the agreements reflected the wife’s intention to relinquish all her rights to the husband’s retirement account and that the husband would relinquish all ownership rights to the residence in Clinton. The husband was not represented by counsel when he signed the documents.

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In some states — like Florida, for example — permanent (a/k/a indefinite) alimony is the default for marriages of a certain duration. By contrast, a spouse seeking indefinite alimony in Maryland must prove certain factors unrelated to the duration of the marriage to obtain that kind of award from the court. Those standards can be enormously helpful if you’re opposing your spouse’s request for indefinite alimony, but you should never take anything for granted in your divorce case. Instead, ensure that you’re protected by retaining an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer to handle your alimony matter.

In Maryland, a trial court may award a divorcing spouse indefinite alimony only if the judge finds that “due to age, illness, infirmity, or disability, the party seeking alimony cannot reasonably be expected to make substantial progress toward becoming self-supporting” or that, even after the spouse seeking alimony made the maximum amount of progress toward becoming self-supporting “as can reasonably be expected,” the spouses’ “respective standards of living… will be unconscionably disparate.”

In one Montgomery County couple’s alimony dispute, the husband emerged successful because the wife failed to clear either of these hurdles.

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Statistical research says that as many as 80% of people of divorced people will eventually remarry. The bad news is that second and subsequent marriages have a greater than 60% chance of ending in divorce. What’s all that mean? It means that, before you embark on that second or subsequent marriage, it is wise to consider pre-marital planning — such as a prenuptial agreement — before you wed. An experienced Maryland family law attorney can help you go about taking all the necessary steps to protect what you’ve built up to this point in your life.

A fairly negotiated and properly executed prenuptial agreement can be a huge help if you and your new spouse-to-be both have substantial wealth. It can be of even greater value if you have amassed wealth and your spouse-to-be has not, as one recent prenuptial agreement case from Baltimore County helps to illustrate.

In the Baltimore County case, the husband was a man in his early 50s who owned a successful construction and refrigeration business. He’d been married once, having divorced after 25 years, and had four adult children. The wife was in her late 20s, had a 12-year-old daughter, and according to the court, “was employed at an adult entertainment establishment” when she met the husband.

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As is true of all contracts, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements require several ingredients for success. All parties should negotiate with good faith, and endeavor to live up to the promises they make in the agreement, as opposed to assuming that, if they fall short of the agreement’s terms, their attorney simply can get them out of it by getting the contract invalidated. If you are considering a postnuptial agreement, make sure that the terms you empower your Maryland family law attorney to negotiate are ones that you can live with… and live up to.

That background brings us to an interesting recent case from here in Montgomery County that involved a postnuptial agreement.

The wife was an account executive for a catering company. The husband was a wealth management advisor and wasn’t always faithful to his spouse. The wife discovered one of the husband’s affairs in 2014 and the couple separated. They eventually worked toward reconciliation, but the wife only agreed to continue the marriage if the husband signed a postnuptial agreement.

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In a very recent case opinion announced by the Court of Special Appeals, the court wrote that “[s]ometimes one misstep early in a case can have repercussion for the rest of the case.” Those kinds of damaging missteps can include, among other things, failing to comply with all the pretrial deadlines the trial court sets. Whether it is managing deadlines, accumulating evidence, securing expert witnesses, or tending to any of the other essential “details” that go into a successful family law case, make sure you’ve retained the services of an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer to handle your matter.

These things may sound small, but a shortcoming — even just a single one — potentially can have massively harmful results, as a recent Montgomery County case demonstrates.

R.Z. and D.Z. were parents going through a child custody case. In any kind of civil case in Maryland, all parties will receive something called a “scheduling order.” This is an order that sets various dates and deadlines, like the trial date, pre-trial conference date, discovery deadlines, and so forth. One of the things generally included in these kinds of orders is the deadline for parties to designate their expert witnesses.

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The pandemic did vast damage to many businesses, particularly ones in the service industry, like restaurants. Whatever industry you’re in, a significant downturn in your financial situation is inevitably painful. One thing that may be available to reduce some of that financial stress is a reduction of your alimony obligation based on your pandemic-triggered income loss. The law imposes certain requirements on any parent’s case to reduce his/her alimony, so you want to be sure that you’re fully prepared. Part of that includes retaining the services of a knowledgeable Maryland alimony lawyer.

Don’t be misled into thinking that the financial setback you’ve endured must be totally the result of things out of your control in order to get a reduction of your alimony payment. A recent alimony modification case from Montgomery County shows what we mean.

The husband was one of the creators of a chain of restaurants serving Mediterranean cuisine. By the time the husband divorced, the restaurant chain had locations in several states.

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People are waiting longer to get married. Statistics show that the average age of Maryland men marrying for the first time is roughly 30 and, for Maryland women, 29. That means that, whether you’re talking about a first marriage or a subsequent marriage, the odds are greater than ever that the spouses are entering the marriage with significant wealth. For many spouses-to-be, one important financial goal is to ensure that the assets they want to share are shared and the ones they want to keep separate stay separate. Proper planning is vital in this area because, as a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer will tell you, a failure to handle these assets properly could result in a non-marital asset unintentionally switching to marital status in the eyes of the law.

A recent Montgomery County divorce case shows this concept in action.

In terms of determining which assets were marital and which were non-marital, the spouses agreed about their home, the cars, and the checking accounts, but they did not agree about certain annuity accounts.

Divorce is a big transition in the lives of many people. So is retirement. A significant number of people entering retirement have to deal with divorce-related financial obligations, including alimony. Whether you are the spouse who’s receiving alimony or the spouse who’s retiring, a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer can help you best protect yourself and your financial needs.

K.R. was one of these retiring Marylanders. He and his wife divorced in 2014 after 39 years of marriage. The spouses worked out a property settlement agreement. With regard to alimony, the agreement said that the husband would pay the wife $10,000 per month. It also said that the alimony obligation would reduce to “36.36% of the husband’s earned income” starting in 2019… unless the alimony obligation was “otherwise terminated or modified by a court.”

In 2020, the husband went back to court to extinguish his alimony obligation. He argued in his motion that he’d retired due to the COVID-19 pandemic and no longer earned any income. The court concluded that, although the husband had no income, he had over $1 million in assets, and refused to terminate alimony, but did reduce the sum from $10,000 per month to $4,000 per month.

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Late last year, Washingtonian covered a trend regarding alimony that’s on the rise in Maryland, D.C., and Northern Virginia: divorces where higher-earning wives leave owing alimony to their husbands. The piece is a useful reminder that anyone (husband or wife) can potentially be ordered to pay alimony in Maryland and that ways (such as prenuptial agreements) exist to help avoid part or all of the horror of an unexpectedly unfavorable divorce judgment. Whether you’re negotiating a prenup or litigating alimony, make sure you have a knowledgeable Maryland family law lawyer on your side to fight for a fair outcome.

Many of the ex-wives in the Washingtonian piece expressed deep anger and resentment about paying alimony to ex-husbands who they viewed as insufficiently industrious. One wife described her husband as someone whom she “begged” to find a job, always without success. Another expressed resentment about owing alimony from a marriage where she allegedly earned the bulk of the family’s income and also bore the lion’s share of responsibility for domestic tasks.

One wife complained, “It’s not just as simple as saying, ‘Because men pay it, women should pay it, too.'”

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