Divorce signature, marriage dissolution document. Wedding ring and agreement on lawyer office table — alimony modification concept.

Alimony in Maryland can be categorized a number of different ways. One important distinction is between alimony pendente lite, or “during the litigation,” which is support paid during the pendency of the divorce and alimony after the divorce. Alimony pendente lite is, by definition, time-limited in nature and usually doesn’t need to be modified. In this blog post, we’ll be discussing alimony modification for support that is awarded at the conclusion of a divorce.

Another distinction is that In Maryland generally two types of alimony may be awarded in a divorce decree: rehabilitative alimony and indefinite alimony. Rehabilitative alimony, as the name suggests, is intended to help lower-earning ex-spouses get back on their feet and become able to support themselves.

Indefinite alimony is less common; it is awarded for an open-ended time period, either when one spouse cannot make reasonable progress toward being self-supporting due to age, illness, disability, or some other factor or where the difference in standards of living between the former spouses is “unconscionably disparate.” Both rehabilitative alimony and indefinite alimony are modifiable when ordered by a court.

How, and when, can an ex-spouse get an alimony modification in Maryland? The answer to that question depends on the answers to the questions below.

When is a Modification of Alimony Granted?

Whether alimony will be modified depends on a number of factors, including whether both parties are willing to modify the award, how the alimony award was reached, the terms of any agreement between the parties, and how circumstances have changed.

Is the Alimony Award Modifiable or Non-Modifiable?

If the divorcing couple reached an agreement regarding alimony instead of it being awarded by the court, they may have agreed to make alimony “non-modifiable.” Deciding to make an award of alimony non-modifiable has some benefits, not the least of which is that it can provide certainty to the parties about how long alimony will continue and how much the payments will be. However, if either party has a change in circumstances that makes an alimony modification appropriate, a court will not change the award if the parties agreed to make it non-modifiable.

With court-ordered alimony (as opposed to alimony agreed upon by the couple), modification is always possible under appropriate circumstances. A Maryland court cannot impose a non-modifiable award on a couple without their agreement.

Do Both Parties Agree to a Modification?

If both ex-spouses agree to a particular alimony modification, they can submit their agreement to the court for signature. At that point, it becomes a binding order modifying alimony, even if the parties had previously agreed to make alimony non-modifiable.

Does the Couple’s Divorce Settlement Say When the Alimony Award Can Be Modified?

When a couple reaches an agreement in their divorce regarding alimony, that agreement may define circumstances under which alimony will be modified. For example, the parties might agree that if the recipient is able to find a job earning X dollars per month during the term of the award, alimony will be reduced by Y dollars per month.

If the alimony recipient does not agree to the modification, the payor can file a motion with the court to modify alimony, showing both the terms of the divorce settlement and evidence that the recipient is earning the amount required to trigger a reduction in alimony.

Has There Been a Significant Change in Circumstances That Justifies an Alimony Modification?

Much of the time, alimony modification is not as cut-and-dried as a couple agreeing on the terms of a modification, or the terms of a provision in the divorce decree clearly being met. Often, one party thinks that alimony should be modified, and the other disagrees. Unless they can reach a resolution through mediation or some other form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), they will need to address the issue in court.

Under Maryland law, courts can extend the period for which alimony has been awarded if the recipient petitions for an extension during the term of alimony, and if failing to grant an extension would lead to a harsh and inequitable result due to circumstances that have arisen during that period. The court can also modify the amount of alimony on the motion of either party “as circumstances and justice require.”

That means that the alimony recipient may ask for more alimony, to receive alimony for a longer period, or both; the party paying alimony may request that the amount of the alimony payment be reduced.

What is a change of circumstances sufficient for a court to order an alimony modification in Maryland? The following are examples of what could be reasons a court might agree to modify an alimony award:

  • The payor has suffered a significant, involuntary loss of income such that they can no longer afford to pay the existing alimony award and meet their own basic needs
  • The recipient is cohabitating with a romantic partner in a marriage-type relationship and is receiving ongoing financial support from that person
  • The recipient has received significant, unexpected financial resources (like winning the lottery or receiving an unanticipated inheritance) that enables them to become self-supporting without receiving alimony
  • The recipient attains a job that allows them to be self-supporting sooner than anticipated
  • The payor has suffered an illness or disabling injury that makes them unable to work
  • The recipient has suffered an illness or disabling injury that makes them unable to become self-supporting as previously anticipated
  • A child of the parties develops a medical condition that requires the recipient of alimony to care for them rather than pursuing employment

There may be other situations in which a court would find that there has been a significant change of circumstances that requires an alimony modification. It’s possible, perhaps likely, that a court would decline to modify alimony based on a change of circumstances that was anticipated at the time of the original alimony award.

Similarly, an alimony payor cannot reasonably expect a court to modify alimony payments downward for a reduction in their income if that reduction was voluntary.

Whether you are paying or receiving alimony, if you want to modify an existing alimony award, it is important to work with an experienced family law attorney. A skilled attorney may be able to help you negotiate a modification without going to court. If litigation is necessary, your attorney will be able to present the facts of the situation in a light most favorable to your position, increasing the chance that you will get the result you are seeking.

To learn more about alimony modifications or termination of alimony, contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Support