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.
The divorce became final in 2017. The court found the husband’s business assets were worth $4.2 million and his annual earnings were $284,000. The wife had not worked full-time in a decade. In addition to child support, the court ordered the husband to pay the wife $4,500 in indefinite alimony.
Then, as we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic happened in 2020. According to the husband, the pandemic had a massive negative impact on his business. His catering business hadn’t made a profit since February 2020 and the restaurant business incurred heavy losses. According to the husband’s business partner, his income had dipped to $13,000 per month.
All of that evidence was crucial in the husband’s motion to reduce his alimony obligation. The law in Maryland says that, before a court can make any kind of modification to an award of alimony, the court first must find that a “material change in circumstances” has taken place. Examples of things that may meet the standard of a material change include job loss, receipt of an inheritance, or either spouse experiencing an income change of 25% or more.
The husband’s evidence in this case definitely cleared that last threshold. Before the pandemic, he earned more than $23,000 per month. After the pandemic, his income was only $13,000 per month, or a decline of more than 40%. That drop was enough to warrant a reduction in alimony.
The Court Couldn’t Pretend that ‘Certain Circumstances Didn’t Exist’
The trial court’s ruling — and the appeals court’s decision to affirm it — are valuable reminders that you do not have to be “perfect” in your financial decision-making in order to receive a reduction in your alimony. Even if you made unwise choices that cost you money, a reduction could still potentially be within reach.
In this husband’s case, the court found that his financial woes were partly “of his own making” and “the product of improvident financial decisions.” Those findings, however, did not preclude a ruling in favor of the husband. To do deny the husband’s motion, the court decided, would be “inappropriate because such an approach [would] not give due regard to the detrimental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Even if the husband made mistakes in his “prior behavior,” the court could not “determine… alimony as if his current
circumstances didn’t exist,” and, so, a reduction was warranted.
Whether you need to seek alimony or oppose an award of alimony (or a modification of an existing alimony order,) you need legal representation that will ensure the judge has all the facts, not just the ones your ex-spouse wants the court to hear. The skilled Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC are here to help make certain that happens. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.