Woman reviewing her finances - alimony eligibility concept

One of the biggest worries for many people in divorce is how they will manage financially. In many marriages, one spouse earns significantly more than the other, and the couple’s standard of living depends on that income. In divorce, the spouse who earns less may worry about the loss of that income, and wonder if they are eligible for alimony in Maryland, also known as spousal support. The higher earning spouse may worry about having to pay spousal support, and how that will affect their own financial security. We will address the many questions regarding spousal support in this blog post.

What Alimony Is (and Is Not)

Before we dive into what alimony is, let’s first talk about what it is not. Alimony is not child support. Child support is money paid by one parent to the other to help pay for things the children need, like food, shelter, and clothing. While child support may incidentally benefit the parent to whom it’s paid (such as by paying for part of rent and utilities), it is not alimony.

Alimony (called spousal support or spousal maintenance in some states) is a periodic payment to a spouse or former spouse or for their benefit. Payments are usually paid monthly, and may continue for either a fixed term or indefinitely, that is, with no specified end date. Alimony under Maryland law ends automatically when either of the spouses or ex-spouses dies or the recipient remarries.

Unlike child support, which must be awarded if the divorcing spouses share a minor child, alimony is not required. Another difference between alimony and child support is that there are specific guidelines used to calculate child support; those guidelines take into account the parents’ relative incomes, the number of children, and the amount of time the children stay in each parent’s household.

By contrast, there are no required or statutory formulas for calculating alimony in Maryland. Accordingly, if two individuals with very similar circumstances seek alimony, they could end up with very different awards, depending on lots of factors, including the skill and experience of their attorneys.

What is the Purpose of Alimony?

The purpose of alimony depends on the type, and in Maryland, there are two types: alimony pendente lite and permanent alimony. Each is intended to achieve a different goal.

“Pendente lite” means “during litigation. Alimony pendente lite is awarded while the divorce is pending to maintain the financial status quo, the standard of living the couple enjoyed during the marriage. Pendente lite ends when the divorce becomes final. A court may award permanent alimony in the divorce for the support of a lower-earning spouse following the end of the marriage, but an award of alimony pendente lite does not mean that the recipient will receive permanent alimony. The factors used to determine an award of permanent alimony also do not apply when determining pendente lite.

Despite the name, permanent alimony often isn’t permanent, and Maryland law makes clear that it is intended to be rehabilitative in nature. In other words, permanent alimony is generally intended to help support the spouse receiving it until they can take whatever steps are needed to allow them to become self-supporting.

Of course, in some situations, it is not reasonable to expect an alimony recipient to become self-supporting. Imagine, for example, a 70 year old woman who has been a housewife for 50 years, or a man with a degenerative medical condition that increasingly limits his ability to work.

Maryland courts may award alimony for an indefinite period in the event that age, infirmity, or disability makes it unlikely that the recipient will be able to become self-supporting. Courts can also award indefinite alimony if the parties would have a difference in their standards of living that would be grossly unfair, even if the lower-earning spouse could make progress toward becoming self-supporting or even become fully self-supporting.

How is Maryland Alimony Calculated?

Like most other jurisdictions, Maryland has a list of factors for courts to consider when deciding whether to award alimony, and in making any award of permanent alimony fair and equitable. These factors are found in Maryland Code § 11-106 and include:

  1. The ability of the party 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 nonmonetary, of each 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;
  12. Whether the award would cause an institutionalized spouse from whom alimony is sought to become eligible for medical assistance earlier than would otherwise occur.

After considering each of these factors, the court will decide whether alimony is appropriate, how much payments should be, and how long payments should continue. But because the determination is not formulaic, what information gets presented to the court, and how, can have a major impact on the outcome.

In essence, a request for alimony is a battle between two competing narratives: a story about why it is only fair for one spouse to receive alimony, and a story about why it would be unfair to ask the other spouse to make alimony payments. Which story the court accepts often comes down to the strategy and skill of the attorney telling it. An experienced family law attorney will understand which facts to emphasize in order to persuade the court of your position.

How Do Courts Award Alimony in Maryland?

You and your spouse may agree that one of you will pay alimony to the other in a certain amount for a certain length of time. That agreement can be incorporated into your divorce decree. If one spouse wants support, but the other disagrees, the spouse seeking support will have to ask the court to award alimony.

The spouse who wants alimony can include a request in the Complaint for Divorce (or a Complaint for Annulment). The spouse seeking financial support must request alimony before the divorce is concluded. The court has no jurisdiction (authority) to award alimony after a divorce is final, even if circumstances change or would otherwise warrant it. Only if alimony was awarded as part of the divorce or expressly reserved, either by agreement or court order, can the court modify it afterwards.

If you have a prenuptial agreement in which you and your spouse agreed that neither of you would be entitled to support in the event of a divorce, the court will take that agreement into account. It can be very difficult to have such an agreement set aside. However, depending on the circumstances, a skilled divorce attorney may be able to persuade the court that the agreement is unenforceable, and that one spouse should be entitled to alimony. Whether you are seeking to uphold a prenuptial agreement or to have it set aside, it is essential to have a divorce attorney with extensive experience with these agreements advocate for your position.

If you would like to learn more about how alimony works in Maryland or the District of Columbia, please contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Support