This post explains how alimony is handled in a typical Maryland divorce. It is based on our experience in handling divorce cases in Southern Maryland, especially Charles County, St. Mary’s County, Calvert County, and Prince George’s County.
This post is part of our Free Legal Consumer Guide to Divorce in Maryland. Alimony is part of some, but not all, Maryland divorce cases. For all the details on Divorce in Maryland, click here to read our entire Free Legal Consumer Guide on Divorce in Maryland.
Alimony is a payment from one divorcing spouse to the other divorcing spouse in order to help the second spouse become self-supporting. It can be awarded during or after a divorce.
When alimony is ordered, the divorce courts in Maryland favor awarding temporary alimony, as opposed to indefinite alimony. The idea is to allow a time period so the spouse receiving alimony can “rehabilitate” themselves. That means the Court will want the spouse receiving alimony to get back to making a higher income and becoming self supporting.
Self-supporting means more than just being able to get a job that pays the bills without financial assistance. The two former spouses must be able to survive without such a large financial difference between them that the Court would consider it unfair.
So if you and your spouse both have jobs that pay about the same amount, alimony is not likely to be considered. However, if one spouse makes twice the income of the other spouse, or if one spouse does not work at all, it could be an issue in your divorce case.
Of course, the devil is in the details, and you should keep reading to find out what those details are. You should also definitely seek the advice and guidance of an attorney if you think alimony is a possibility in your divorce case.
Whether or not you get alimony depends on the specific and unique facts of your case. Each situation is different. In Maryland, the court really looks at alimony requests on a case by case basis. An attorney familiar with your local courts can tell you if it is likely to be awarded in your case.
YOU HAVE TO ASK FOR ALIMONY
In Maryland, alimony is not automatically given in divorce cases. A spouse has to make a specific request and ask the Court for alimony, or the divorce Court will not consider it at all. You can certainly get it if you need it, but you have to ask for it and prove you are entitled to it.
If you do request alimony, you then have to prove that you can actually get a divorce. The Court will not award any kind of alimony unless you show you are likely to get an annulment, a limited divorce, or an absolute divorce. Basically, you have to ask for alimony and prove the grounds for a divorce before alimony is awarded.
Warning: We are not accountants. They are the best people to give tax advice, and you should consult one if alimony is an issue in your Maryland divorce case. However, generally speaking, the spouse that pays alimony gets a tax deduction, and the spouse getting alimony has to claim it as income. Alimony is generally taxable.
THE NEED FOR PROOF
In order to get alimony, you must have evidence that it is called for in your case. The Court will consider a lot of “factors”, based on what you present at a contested hearing with formal rules of evidence. These factors will decide if alimony should be awarded, how much, and for how long. If you do not present your reasons for or against alimony, the Court will not consider them. This is why we never advise anyone to try and handle an alimony case on their own.
There are some proceedings you can do on your own. Even then, we encourage you to get a consultation for guidance. Alimony is complicated and requires a lot of proof. Do not try to handle your own claim for alimony. If you want alimony, look at the attorney’s fees as an investment. If you may be subject to pay alimony, then you probably have enough money to consult an attorney.
TYPES OF ALIMONY
There are three different types of alimony in Maryland:
- Temporary Alimony – awarded before the divorce proceeding.
- Rehabilitative Alimony – awarded after the divorce proceeding, and for a limited time.
- Indefinite Alimony – continues into the future, until death or remarriage.
Temporary alimony is alimony that can be awarded before getting your final divorce order. The Court will base their decision primarily on the current need for the requested temporary alimony. The Court also takes into account the likelihood of a spouse being awarded alimony at the divorce proceeding.
The spouse requesting temporary alimony must prove:
- There was a marriage,
- There are good grounds for the divorce,
- There is a financial need, and
- The other spouse has the ability to pay.
Temporary alimony can lead to more alimony later. If temporary alimony is paid before your divorce is formally filed, and there is no complaint, the Court may be more likely to grant rehabilitative or indefinite alimony later. Get a divorce lawyer to help you early in the process.
This is also called statutory alimony. In Maryland, rehabilitative alimony is much more common than indefinite alimony in divorce proceedings.
Rehabilitative alimony is paid for a certain period of time, until the spouse receiving alimony is able to become self-supporting. The Court will not often grant long periods of alimony. They want each party to a divorce proceeding to become self supporting as soon as practical.
Alimony can be awarded from the date the request for alimony was filed. This is called back dating. Therefore, the original complaint requesting alimony many months ago can be the date from which alimony can be awarded, if you put it in your complaint.
The spouse requesting rehabilitative alimony must prove it is fair because of:
- Their inability to be self-supporting after the divorce,
- The time required to find suitable employment,
- The standard of living of the parties during the marriage,
- The length of marriage,
- The contributions (both monetary and non-monetary) made to the well-being of the family,
- The circumstances contributing to the breakup,
- The age of each party,
- The physical and mental condition of each party,
- The ability of the paying spouse to meet the dependent spouse’s needs while still supporting themselves after the divorce,
- Any agreement between the parties concerning alimony,
- The financial needs and resources of each party, and
- The need of one spouse for medical care.
That is a long list, and it makes for a complicated trial. Each of these factors has special rules and exceptions that may apply in your case.
To make matters more confusing, rehabilitative and indefinite alimony can be awarded together. If awarded together, rehabilitative alimony will end at a specified time. Indefinite alimony would continue after that.
Indefinite does not mean permanent. Just because the Court does not set an end date, doesn’t mean it won’t ever end. Indefinite Alimony can be modified as discussed below. It will also terminate if the spouse receiving alimony re-marries, or if either spouse dies.
Indefinite alimony will usually occur when a spouse cannot be expected to become self-supporting due to an inability to earn enough, a disability, or other barriers to earning a living.
Indefinite alimony can also be awarded if there is a large difference between the incomes of the parties which will persist after the divorce. The law refers to this as a “disparity” between the parties. There is no set guideline for finding a disparity in a divorce case. The Courts address it on a case by case basis. It is more than a simple math exercise. If the disparity is so great to be considered grossly unfair, then indefinite alimony may be awarded.
Take this example: Ann makes $250,000 a year and Bob makes $20,000 a year. If Bob will never reach the same level of income as Ann, even if he had all the training he could, then Bob may get indefinite alimony. (This is an extreme example used to prove the point. Don’t take those numbers as necessary legal thresholds.)
When considering indefinite alimony, the Court will use the same factors as rehabilitative alimony. After that, the Court will also consider:
- Age, illness, sickness or disability that prohibits a person from making substantial progress towards becoming self-supporting after a divorce is final.
- Will the standard of living of the parties after the divorce be unfairly different, even after the party seeking alimony has made as much progress toward becoming self-supporting as can reasonably be expected?
MODIFICATION OF ALIMONY
To modify alimony, the Court must find there has been a change of circumstances since the original divorce proceeding. There are two different ways this can be done.
- There can be an extension of time that alimony is provided, or
- The dollar amount of the payment can be changed
To extend the time period of alimony, a request must be made – and that request must occur before the original alimony award expires. The Court will look at those same alimony factors listed above. The Court will award more alimony if they find that without the extension there would be a harsh and unfair result.
To modify the amount of alimony paid, the requesting party must show that there is a need for modification. There must be something new, or something that has changed since the initial award of alimony for the Court to consider a modification of that award.
If the issues brought up now could have been dealt with at the original divorce proceeding, the Court may not consider them during the modification. If you and your spouse have an agreement about alimony that says a divorce Court may not modify it, or that specifically waives any right to alimony, the Court is less likely to modify that agreement during your divorce.
Alimony is not like child support, which the Court will always reconsider regardless of what you agree to. Children of divorce get special protection from the Court. The Court is more likely to let adults make their own deals concerning their own income after a divorce.
TERMINATION OF ALIMONY
The termination of alimony is rather simple. Unless you and your spouse agree otherwise (in a written agreement) it terminates upon:
- The death of either party,
- The marriage of the spouse receiving alimony, or
- The Court finds termination is necessary to avoid a harsh and unfair result. The spouse who is trying to terminate alimony has the burden of proving the harsh and unfair result.
Palimony is not actually a legal term of art (like alimony). It is a term coined in the media. It means Alimony that is paid to a pal, or girlfriend or boyfriend. The situation is this: the parties are not married, but are living together in a marriage-like relationship. This is called a common law marriage.
Maryland does not have common law marriage, nor does it recognize a non-married couple’s right to alimony upon a break-up of the relationship. You must have been married to receive alimony in Maryland. There is no palimony in Maryland.
If you think you may have a case for alimony in a Maryland divorce case, you should seek a consultation with a Maryland attorney. Alimony is very fact specific, and an attorney must go over the specific facts of your case before they can tell you if you may qualify for it.