The Importance of the ‘Change of Circumstances’ Requirement in Your Maryland Alimony Modification Case

Roughly 25 years ago, a popular musician had a successful song entitled “Ironic” that, in part, discussed life events that were really bad timing – like winning the lottery and dying the next day. Pop music aside, the reality is that, sometimes, major events in one’s life sometimes can have peculiar timing, such as receiving a large influx of wealth shortly after you divorce. This kind of scenario may find you fighting to keep all of your wealth, including keeping your ex-spouse from getting an upsized amount of alimony. When it comes to protecting your assets in a divorce, make sure you have a skilled Maryland divorce attorney by your side.

The divorce case of R.T. and M.T. was one of those situations. In the divorce, the couple agreed on many issues, but were far apart on alimony. The trial court ultimately ordered the husband to pay the wife $1,800 per month for 72 months as rehabilitative alimony.

A scant three days after the judge signed that order, the husband received a large year-end bonus from his employer in the amount of $73,195. As soon as she learned about the order, the wife went back to court seeking an order modifying alimony. The trial judge, however, denied the wife’s request to modify the alimony award and that denial was upheld on appeal.

Why did the wife’s request fail even though the husband clearly had considerably more wealth three days after the order than he did before? It all came down the legal rules about “change of circumstances.” In family law in Maryland, there are many issues where a spouse is limited when it comes to seeking modification. Alimony is one of those. Before a court can even consider your spouse’s arguments in favor of an increase of her alimony, the law says your spouse must first demonstrate that there has been a “material change in circumstances” that hadn’t been contemplated by the spouses. No change of circumstances means that, by law, there can be no change in alimony.

The change of circumstances must not have been known

This argument option was decisive for this husband. The wife knew about the husband’s bonus history and that, even though he wasn’t guaranteed a bonus, he received one most years. Despite that, the wife “’chose not to pursue a course of action’ that would have led the court to consider the bonuses in computing alimony.” Under those circumstances, there was not a material change of circumstances that was unknown to the spouses, so the husband was entitled to have his alimony obligation remain unchanged.

This legal requirement of a “material change of circumstances” is very important because it gives you one more avenue to defeat your spouse’s motion for increased alimony. One way you can win is if the factual financial evidence does not support her arguments that she should get more alimony. The other way is to assert that, regardless of the financials, there’s not been a substantial change in circumstances that was not contemplated by the parties prior to the original judgment on alimony, and so the court is not permitted under the law to modify alimony.

This latter argument has two important benefits. One is that it can protect you in the event that the factual financial evidence isn’t on your side. Two, even if the financial proof is on your side, this method may potentially provide you with a successful outcome in a swifter fashion that not only costs you less in terms of time, but also in terms of the financial cost of having to do a “deep dive” into the financials in a prolonged court hearing.

Whether you are the spouse who needs to seek an increase in alimony, or you are the spouse defending against your ex’s unwarranted request for more alimony, you need skillful legal representation on your side. Count on the attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to provide you with that kind of effective legal counsel and advocacy throughout your case. To learn more about how we can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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