After a divorce is finalized, one party is ordered to pay an amount as alimony or spousal support to the other party. Under Maryland Law, one spouse is ordered to pay spousal support to the other spouse who is in a financially backward status. The court may at its discretion order payment of spousal support for other reasons as well.
The main purpose of granting alimony is to support the other spouse to maintain the standard of living he/she was living at the time of the marriage. The law also clearly states that the party receiving the spousal support cannot forever depend on the spousal support to maintain his/her lifestyle. The law requires the receiving spouse to be self-sustained within a decent period of time.
Alimony and its different types in Maryland
There are different types of alimony in Maryland. The types of alimony are divided based on whether the alimony is received for short term or long term. Short term spousal maintenance is called pendent lite maintenance. Pendente lite spousal maintenance is valid only during the course of the divorce proceedings and is not valid after the divorce decree is entered. During the period of waiting for the grant of divorce, the court temporarily orders support to be paid in order to maintain the status quo. Merely because the court ordered pendent lite spousal maintenance to be paid, does not mean that the individual is entitled to permanent spousal maintenance.
Long term spousal support is permanent alimony and is awarded to parties who are enduring difficult situations such as old age, disability or illness or that the spouses are unable to improve their standard of living even after taking all possible efforts for improvement. This permanent spousal maintenance may be paid by agreement or by court order. Maryland law did not provide any provision for spousal support until 1980. The equal rights amendment bill required one individual in the marriage to pay alimony to the other individual who is financially backward. The relevant Maryland code that deals with spousal support is Md. Code Ann. Family Law §11-101(b).
The main reason for the introduction of this provision is that under Maryland law when one party marries another, each party becomes responsible for the other individual. this duty to support each other does not end with the separation of the parties. Even in mutual divorce cases, spousal support is ordered until the final decree of divorce is entered. In some cases, the parties themselves enter into an agreement about spousal support to be paid during the pendency of the divorce.
It is important to note that if one wishes to request alimony, such a request should be before the divorce process comes to an end. Maryland law does not permit a claim for spousal support after the ending of the divorce. The courts have repeatedly held that the right to claim spousal support ends once the marital relationship is severed.
The spousal support statute in Maryland provides certain situations in which spousal support can be granted and terms the support so granted as rehabilitative or indefinite.
Any alimony amount granted temporarily to encourage the party to sustain herself/ himself is considered as rehabilitative alimony. As the name indicates, such support is aimed at rehabilitating the party from the negative impact of the divorce. Rehabilitative spousal support is advantageous to housewives’ rather than husbands. In most cases, it is these homemakers who have dedicated their entire life to the improvement of the children and the financial progress of the family. In such cases, awarding rehabilitative spousal support gives them some time to get qualified and compete in the job market.
In complete contrast to rehabilitative spousal support, permanent spousal support is paid for a long period of time and is usually paid until the death of receiving the party. Permanent spousal support is awarded in situations where the receiving party is completely dependent on the giving spouse due to illness, old age or disability. Another important situation Maryland law specifies for grant of permanent alimony in situations where the receiving spouse attempts improve his/ her standard of living but the paying spouse’s standard of living is unconscionably disparate from the receiving spouse’s standard.
The term unconscionably disparate is probably a confusing word for a layman. The actual meaning of this term is there exists an evidently unjust difference between the standard of living of the receiving and paying spouse.
The amount fixed as alimony is subject to modification petitions filed by either spouse. If there exists an agreement for alimony, the court follows such an agreement and does not make any change in the agreement as part of the divorce decree. In some cases, the amount agreed between the spouses is based on their respective situations and may include payments relating to mortgage or other support.
What factors Maryland courts consider in ordering spousal support
In arriving at a determination of maintenance amount, the Maryland courts consider the following factors
- the ability of the parties 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 of the 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, including:
- all income and assets, including all property that does not produce income;
- any monetary award concerning property and award of possession and use of the family property
- the nature and amount of the financial obligations of each party; and
- the right of each party to receive retirement benefits; and
- Whether the award would cause a paying spouse or a spouse who is a resident of a care facility with more than two patients to become eligible for medical assistance earlier than would otherwise occur.
There is no hard and fast rule that the court should consider all of the factors enumerated above. However, there is a need for the court to show all of these factors were carefully considered. The Maryland statute clearly states that the court should consider other factors in determining the alimony amount. Though the term other factors have not been defined, “other factors” is termed as all grounds that the court may deem necessary to arrive at a just award of alimony.
Spousal support payments in fault divorces
In divorces where one party is at fault, the spouse who is at fault is ordered to pay maintenance. The grounds for fault divorces include cruelty, adultery, and abandonment. Even in fault divorce cases, alimony agreement may be entered between the parties.
How does the court arrive at the spousal support amount:
In order to finalize the amount to be paid as alimony, the court carefully considers the incomes of spouses, their standard of living and expenses. The investment in stocks, bonds, mutual funds by each spouse is also considered. The tax consequence of this divorce is also carefully considered before arriving at the alimony amount. Under federal tax law, alimony is tax – deductible for the paying spouse. The receiving spouse has a duty to report the amount received as income.
Can the spousal support order initially be modified?
Spousal support ends with the remarriage of the receiving spouse or death of the receiving spouse or if the court determines that a change in circumstances has occurred. In a petition for modification of alimony, the spouse requesting modification has to prove that the circumstances have so drastically changed that the order is no longer valid.
How to enforce a court order awarding spousal support?
If a court orders payment of maintenance and if the party ordered to pay maintenance refuses to recognize the court order and fails to comply with it, the spouse who is entitled to payment can initiate contempt proceedings. If the paying spouse fails to pay, he/she will be held in contempt.
Payment of attorney fees in spousal support cases
Maryland law provides for the court to order one party to pay the fees incurred by the other party in filing the maintenance litigation. Such orders are passed completely based on the financial situation of the spouses.