Alimony in Maryland
Alimony is a periodic payment by one spouse to the other, either during or after a divorce. In Maryland, the court may award alimony to a spouse who shows financial need or if the court determines it is appropriate for other reasons. The purpose of an alimony award is to allow each spouse to maintain the standard of living the parties became accustomed to during the marriage. However, the ultimate goal is to provide the recipient spouse the ability to become self-supporting; thus, the court expect both spouses to become self-supporting within a reasonable amount of time after divorce.
How Do Courts Determine Alimony in Maryland?
Either party to a lawsuit for Limited Divorce, Absolute Divorce, or separation may agree to pay alimony or be court-ordered to do so. There is no legal obligation to pay spousal support by one party to the other until there is a court order.
Alimony can only be awarded before the final ending of the marriage. Failure to make a claim for alimony as part of a divorce means that a party cannot come back later after the marriage has ended and start an alimony claim. The Maryland Court of Appeals has noted," [t]he longstanding rule in Maryland… that the right to claim alimony is extinguished at the time of the severance of the marital relationship."
If there is a signed agreement containing provisions for alimony payments, the court is likely to be bound by that agreement, meaning the court will not be able to change the agreement as part of a divorce. As with many other issues that could come up in a divorce case, the parties can agree on many support terms that a court otherwise have the authority to do on its own. As an example, the court only has the authority to award alimony as a periodic payment from one spouse to the other. If the parties resolve alimony by written agreement outside the court, however, they could specify payment of a mortgage or other expense as alimony.
Types of Alimony in Maryland
Alimony pendente lite (alimony before the divorce becomes final) - A court can award this type of alimony between the time you file for divorce (and make a request for alimony) and the time the divorce is final. The purpose of this type of alimony is to maintain the status quo during the divorce.The main considerations for the court in a pendente lite hearing are the needs of the spouse seeking alimony balanced against the financial ability of the other spouse to provide support. It does not necessarily mean that you will be awarded alimony after the divorce if there is a finding of need.
Rehabilitative alimony - This is the type of alimony most likely to be awarded. Usually it is associated with a time-limited goal such as going back to school. For example, a court may award you rehabilitative alimony for the two years that it takes you to go back to school and finish a degree program that will enable you to better support yourself. While results will vary based on your individual circumstances, a good range for you to use in this estimate is an average of 3-10 years of rehabilitative alimony (if your situation matches the criteria).
Indefinite alimony - This is a relatively rare type of alimony awarded with no specific end point. You may receive indefinite alimony if (because of your age, an illness, or a disability) you cannot (1) make reasonable progress toward supporting yourself or (2) even if you can make reasonable progress; your ex-spouse’s standard of living is "unconscionably disparate" from yours. "Unconscionably disparate" means that there is a very large and unfair difference between your living standards. Alimony awards may be modified, extended, or changed or ended in the future. This may happen if one of the ex-spouses asks the court to consider the alimony amount in the future and circumstances have changed.
Amount of Alimony Awarded
The court will consider a long list of factors in deciding if you or your spouse should get alimony, the type of alimony, and how much alimony should be awarded. These factors include:
1) The ability of the parties seeking alimony to be wholly or partly self-supporting;
2) The time necessary for the party seeking alimony to gain sufficient education or training to enable that party to find suitable employment;
3) The standard of living that the parties established during their marriage;
4) The duration of the marriage;
5) The contributions, monetary and non-monetary, of each of the party to the well-being of the family;
6) The circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties;
7) The age of each party;
8) The physical and mental condition of each party;
9) The ability of the party from whom alimony is sought to meet that party's needs while meeting the needs of the party seeking alimony;
10) Any agreement between the parties;
11) The financial needs and financial resources of each party, including:
All income and assets, including all property that does not produce income;
Any monetary award concerning property and award of possession and use of the family property
The nature and amount of the financial obligations of each party; and
The right of each party to receive retirement benefits; and
12) Whether the award would cause a paying spouse or a spouse who is a resident of a care facility with more than two patients to become eligible for medical assistance earlier than would otherwise occur.
Although the court is not required to use a formal checklist, it must demonstrate consideration of all necessary factors, including any that are not expressly listed in this section. Such "other factors" can be defined as any factors that the court may deem necessary or appropriate in order to arrive at a fair and equitable award of alimony.
Does Maryland Have Alimony Guidelines?
No! Maryland courts do not use alimony guidelines as a rule to make a final determination of the amount or duration of any award.
That being said, there are two alimony guideline calculators that a Maryland judge may consider (in conjunction with the factors listed above): (1) the alimony guidelines of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), a national organization of accomplished family law attorneys; and, (2) the “Bruce Kaufman” Guidelines, named after a very prominent family lawyer who passed away many years ago.
In the vast majority of cases, the AAML guidelines will result in higher alimony amounts than the Bruce Kaufman guidelines. You want to be aware of whether one or both of the guidelines favor your position so that you’re prepared for court, mediation or arbitration. Keep in mind, however, that although Maryland Judges may consider one or both of these guidelines, they do not have to do so. Maryland Judges are statutorily required to consider each of the twelve factors provided in the Family Law Code and explain in their ruling how they applied each of those factors.
When Does Alimony End?
Unless agreed to otherwise, alimony ends on (1) the date designated by the court; (2) the death of either party, (3) the recipient’s marriage, or (4) if the court finds that termination of alimony is necessary after a modification hearing.
Call a Wayside Legal Divorce and Alimony Attorney
The award-winning attorneys at Wayside Legal LLC are intimately familiar with the factors considered by courts in establishing alimony, and with the important tax consequences that often follow. If you are facing an alimony case in Maryland, either as the payor or the recipient, we can help. Click here to schedule a free consultation for your case or call (301) 603-3480 to schedule an appointment.