The Maryland family law approach to alimony awards in divorce

Maryland family law surrounding alimony gives judges broad discretion.

An award of alimony in divorce can impact the parties' prosperity for the rest of their lives - for both the paying and receiving ex-spouses. In Maryland, the laws that control alimony - sometimes referred to as spousal maintenance or spousal support - are in some ways traditional and in others more modern, reflecting recent national trends. One thing is for sure: the judge in a Maryland divorce has broad discretion in matters of alimony.

Alimony by agreement

Luckily for spouses ending a marriage, they can negotiate alimony themselves. It is most advantageous when each party is represented by experienced legal counsel in the negotiation process so that each spouse is fully informed of his or her legal rights and their family lawyers can engage their professional negotiation skills in the process.

Maryland law provides that if the parties agree to an alimony award, the judge in the divorce is bound by that agreement so it becomes part of the divorce decree. If the spouses cannot agree, alimony becomes an issue for the court to decide.

Marital misconduct

Before 1980, if a spouse engaged in marital fault by infidelity, he or she normally forfeited the right to alimony in Maryland. Since a legislative change in 1980, marital misconduct is no longer an automatic cause of alimony forfeiture, but the court is still required to consider it as a factor among all other relevant factors in deciding whether spousal support is fair and equitable.

By allowing its judges to consider marital misconduct in determining alimony, Maryland departs from some other states that specifically no longer allow marital fault to be considered in matters of spousal support.

Relevant factors

Maryland statute requires the court to consider all factors relevant to a fair and equitable award, including each of 12 listed factors:

  • The extent to which the person seeking alimony could be self-supporting
  • The time it would take for the person seeking alimony to get the education or training needed to find "suitable employment"
  • The marital standard of living
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The contributions of each spouse to family "well-being" whether financial or otherwise
  • The "circumstances that contributed to the estrangement" of the spouses
  • Their ages
  • Their physical and mental health
  • The ability of the spouse that would pay alimony to still support him or herself
  • The existence of an agreement between them
  • Their individual "financial needs and financial resources," including income and assets; division of property and money; award of use of family home and family use personal property, as well as allocation of mortgage payments or rent and other costs related to the home; right to retirement benefits; and each of their debts
  • The impact of an alimony order on medical assistance eligibility of an institutionalized spouse payor

Again, these factors must be considered by the judge, but he or she must also consider anything else that is relevant to alimony in the particular marriage.

Duration

Alimony is normally rehabilitative, meaning paid until the receiving spouse can become self-supporting. However, Maryland allows an indefinite, often lifetime award in either of two circumstances:

  • The party receiving alimony cannot make "substantial progress" toward self-support because of "age, illness, infirmity, or disability."
  • The recipient could make reasonable progress toward self-support, but the standards of living of each of them would still be "unconscionably disparate," meaning shockingly different.

Legal counsel

Any Marylander facing alimony issues should engage a respected family law firm like the Towson Law Office of Christine Saverda Nielson, P.A.

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