How Does the Court Determine Alimony?
Alimony (or “spousal support”) means periodic payments made from one ex-spouse to another for support and maintenance. The Court looks at several factors in determining what type of alimony, and what amount, is appropriate. In Maryland, there are three types of alimony: Temporary, Rehabilitative, and Indefinite.
I. Pendente lite (or “temporary”) alimony:
This type is awarded while a divorce case is pending. The Court primarily looks at the needs of the dependent spouse and the other spouse’s ability to pay. A more in-depth analysis is required for determining what alimony will be in place after the divorce is finalized.
II. Fixed-term (or “rehabilitative”) alimony:
In Maryland, rehabilitative alimony is preferred over indefinite alimony. The court must specify the amount and duration of the alimony, which is intended to help the receiving ex-spouse become self-supporting. This transition period may include additional education or job training, depending on the circumstances.
Under Md. Code, Family Law § 11-106(b), to determine the amount and period of an award of alimony, the court shall consider all the factors necessary for a fair and equitable award, including:
- the ability of the party seeking alimony to be wholly or partly self-supporting
- the time necessary for the party seeking alimony to gain sufficient education or training to enable that party to find suitable employment
- the standard of living that the parties established during their marriage
- the duration of the marriage
- the contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family
- the circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties
- the age of each party
- the physical and mental condition of each party
- 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
- any agreement between the parties
- the financial needs and financial resources of each party
III. Alimony for an indefinite period:
In some cases, rehabilitative alimony is not appropriate or sufficient. Under Md. Code, Family Law §11-106(c), the court may award alimony for an indefinite period if it 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
- even after the party seeking alimony will have made as much progress toward becoming self-supporting as can reasonably be expected, the respective standards of living of the parties will be unconscionably disparate.
Does fault or a party’s misconduct impact alimony?
It depends on the severity of the wrongdoing and the role it played in the demise of the marriage. Under Md. Code, Family Law §11–103, the existence of a ground for divorce against the party seeking alimony does not automatically bar the court from awarding alimony to that party. Thus, for example, a party’s adultery or desertion, does not bar them from receiving alimony, but such conduct will be a factor considered by the court.
Modification and Termination
The court has the authority to make changes to alimony awards if statutory requirements are met. On petition of either party, the court can modify alimony if a petitioner demonstrates a change in circumstances and/or income. To extend the alimony period, a recipient must petition for an extension during the period and show that circumstances have arisen that would lead to a harsh and inequitable result without an extension. In determining whether a change is appropriate, the court again looks at the totality of the circumstances.
An important exception is that alimony cannot be extended or modified if there was an express waiver of alimony or an agreement provision specifically stating that alimony is not subject to any court modification.
Under Md. Code, Family Law §11-108, unless the parties agree otherwise, alimony terminates:
- on the death of either party;
- on the marriage of the recipient; or
- if the court finds that termination is necessary to avoid a harsh and inequitable result
Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreements
Some couples will enter into prenuptial or postnuptial agreements that address, among other issues, alimony and monetary awards in the event the couple gets divorced. As long as the court finds that the parties’ agreement is valid and enforceable, the alimony terms found therein will be incorporated into the separation agreement and ultimately the divorce decree.
Consulting an experienced attorney
Alimony is highly situation dependent. It is best to discuss your circumstances with an experienced divorce attorney who is familiar with the numerous factors the court takes into account. For years, Bethany G. Shechtel, Esquire has been by her clients’ side, guiding them through the divorce process and protecting their rights. To discuss your situation, contact BGS Law today.