Rehabilitative Versus Indefinite Alimony and the Concept of ‘Unconscionable Disparity’ in Maryland

One of the essential components of many divorce actions is contesting alimony. The differences between temporary alimony versus rehabilitative alimony versus indefinite alimony can be enormous, having a massive impact on both the recipient spouse and the supporting spouse. If you’re facing a dispute over alimony in your divorce case, the stakes are much too great to proceed with representation from a skilled Maryland divorce attorney.

One of the situations in which a recipient spouse can succeed in obtaining indefinite alimony is when he/she sufficiently demonstrates to the court that the difference between his/her post-divorce financial situation and that of the supporting spouse is “unconscionable” under the law.

A divorce case from Harford County represents one circumstance where unconscionability potentially existed.

The husband filed for divorce in 2017 after 19 years of marriage. The wife asked the court to award her indefinite alimony of $2,500 per month, noting that she was “49 years old with injuries still requiring surgery, and degrees earned more than 20 years ago in a foreign country and never used.” After the trial, the judge awarded the wife $2,500 per month… but not in indefinite alimony, but rather three years of rehabilitative alimony.

When it comes to determining alimony, including whether a recipient spouse is entitled to rehabilitative alimony or indefinite alimony, Section 11-106(b) of the Family Law lays out 12 factors the trial court must assess. In addition, Section 11-106(c) says that a spouse may be entitled to indefinite alimony if, after achieving maximum progress toward self-sustainability, “the standards of living of the parties will be unconscionably disparate.”

Maryland courts have been very clear that an essential part of that analysis involves looking at the recipient spouse’s future income prospects and future expenses, and it also involves the trial court making findings of fact regarding those future needs.

If the judge doesn’t do that, then that may give you an opening to get the trial court’s judgment overturned on appeal, which is what this wife successfully did. The judge’s order awarding rehabilitative alimony said regarding future expenses only that the court “reviewed [the spouses’] expenses statements and… [took] that into account.” Without an explicit finding of fact, though, the appeals court had no way “to determine when and if Wife will be self-supporting or whether the parties’ standards of living will be unconscionably disparate.”

A Brief History of Past Unconscionable Disparity Rulings

The appeals court also provided some useful analysis about what is — and is not — unconscionable disparity under Maryland law. In this case, the wife’s expected future annual income ranged somewhere between $40,000 (or 26% of what the husband made) and $60,000 (or 39% of what the husband made.) The appeals court hinted that numbers like those might potentially represent unconscionable disparity (and require an award of indefinite alimony.) The court noted that, in the past, unconscionable disparities had existed in situations where the recipient spouse made as much as 35% or even 43% of what the supporting spouse made.

Of course, winning an argument regarding unconscionable disparity requires more than establishing each spouse’s income and expenses. Even great disparities may not meet the law’s standard of unconscionability. Instead, a successful case requires evidence that the disparity represents gross unfairness.

Whether it is an issue of alimony, property division, or some other issue, divorce-related matters are often highly fact-intensive. Success, then, requires ensuring that you’ve given the court all the information necessary to understand fully your position. That means having skilled representation like the Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC on your side. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation and find out how we can help you.

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