What Does — and Doesn’t — Qualify as an ‘Unconscionable’ Income Disparity in a Maryland Alimony Dispute

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.

The husband was a successful account manager for a broadband satellite and network solutions company. The wife also was a successful professional working for Lockheed Martin. However, one year after they married, they welcomed a son and the couple agreed that the wife would transition into a teaching career to have more time for their new child. Nearly 17 years later, the couple separated and a year after that, the wife filed for absolute divorce.

In her divorce complaint, the wife asked for indefinite alimony in the amount of $4,000 per month. After the conclusion of a two-day hearing, the court decided indefinite alimony was not appropriate and instead awarded the wife rehabilitative alimony of $2,000 per month for a span of 36 months.

The wife appealed but the appellate court upheld the decision of the trial judge.

The analysis of unconscionable disparity is a factual one and it’s very important to make sure you’re equipped to put “your best foot forward” in the trial court, as Maryland law says that appellate courts will only reverse a trial judge’s findings about an unconscionable disparity (or a lack thereof) if the trial judge’s ruling was “clearly erroneous,” which is a high hurdle to overcome.

A Disparity — Even a ‘Gross’ One — Isn’t Necessarily Unconscionable

In this couple’s case, the wife was making in excess of $102,000 per year teaching fifth grade in the Montgomery County Public Schools. The husband made roughly $200,000 per year. The trial court concluded that the wife was already self-supporting, thus ruling out the first basis for awarding indefinite alimony. The court furthermore decided that, while there was a disparity in the spouses’ standards of living, that discrepancy did not rise to the level of “unconscionable.”

In upholding that decision, the Court of Special Appeals pointed out that the law in Maryland says that a “mathematical disparity in incomes,” even a gross one, does not automatically trigger an entitlement to indefinite alimony. In this couple’s case, the wife would soon start drawing from her Lockheed pension and also had state and county pension worth almost $680,000. Additionally, she had a $209,000 IRA and a $178,000 403(b) retirement account. Based on those numbers, the disparity between the wife and the husband simply did not rise to the level of unconscionability, so rehabilitative alimony was the proper remedy.

Whether you’re seeking alimony or you’re opposing the alimony award your spouse requested, you need a powerful and knowledgeable advocate on your side. Look to the skilled Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to provide you with that sort of representation and help you to walk away from your marriage free from an unfair and overly burdensome alimony obligation. To learn more, contact us at 888-519-2801 or via our online form.

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