Maryland alimony left largely, but not completely, to judge discretion
We introduce the basic concepts of Maryland spousal support standards.
Whether alimony is awarded in a divorce can make a major impact on the standard of living of each divorcing party in very real ways. For example, the transfer of money can impact housing, vehicles, travel and the amount of disposable money available.
Fairness and equity
Maryland statute places a few restrictions on alimony awards, but still leaves extensive discretion with judges to thoroughly review the circumstances of divorcing spouses and craft alimony awards accordingly.
When a couple files for divorce in Maryland court, the judge may grant Pendente Lite alimony, meaning the payment of money support from one spouse to the other, while the divorce is pending and not yet finalized by the court. This arrangement can get the parties through the transition until the merit hearing.
Divorcing parties may negotiate an agreement establishing the terms of alimony that is binding on the Maryland judge. If they do not settle the issue privately, that judge will have to decide whether alimony will be ordered and the terms of such an award.
Consideration of relevant factors
There are no alimony formulas or guidelines in Maryland law. Rather, alimony must be “fair and equitable” and the judge must weigh all factors needed to make that decision including specific items in a list:
- Extent to which the recipient can support him or herself
- Length of time it would take for the recipient to get enough education or training to find “suitable employment”
- Marital standard of living
- Length of marriage
- Contributions, both financial and otherwise, by each spouse to family “well-being”
- Reasons for the marital relationship ending
- Spouses’ ages
- Spouses’ physical and mental health
- Impact of paying alimony on the ability of the paying spouse to support him or herself
- Agreements between the parties such as a prenuptial agreement
- Each of their “financial needs and financial resources”
- Whether the payment of alimony by an institutionalized spouse would escalate the payor’s eligibility for medical assistance
It is notable that Maryland statute requires consideration of the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage in the decision whether to award alimony. Whether marital fault may be considered varies widely among various states, with some not allowing its consideration at all and some requiring it.
Maryland statute does limit a judge’s power to order an indefinite duration of alimony, meaning that there would be no end date included in the order. This is only allowed in two circumstances:
- If it would not be reasonable to expect that the potential recipient can make “substantial progress” to support him or herself because of “age, illness, infirmity, or disability”
- If, even after the recipient makes reasonable progress toward self-support, the parties’ standards of living will look “unconscionably disparate”
Unless an agreement says otherwise, alimony payments end if either person dies, the recipient remarries or a court finds that to allow it to continue would be “harsh and inequitable.”
A Motion for Modification of Alimony can be filed after the divorce to extend the end date of an alimony award, which can be granted if not doing so would be “harsh and inequitable.” The amount may be similarly modified if required by “circumstances and justice.”
Alimony questions should be directed to an experienced attorney. This area of Maryland law is complex and largely dependent on the particular circumstances and how the judge evaluates them based on the law.
The lawyers at Law Office of Dawn M. Green, in Annapolis represent divorcing clients throughout Maryland.