Types of Alimony Available To Divorcing Marylanders
By Amar S. Weisman, Esquire
Alimony originates from the common law obligation to support one's spouse and it refers to a series of cash payments from an economically independent spouse to an economically dependent spouse. In Maryland, both men and women filing to obtain either a limited divorce or an absolute divorce have the option of requesting up to three different types of alimony. This article is a starting point for understanding the different kinds of alimony that are available under the Family Law Article, but you should consult with a Maryland divorce lawyer if you are wondering whether seeking alimony is appropriate in your case.
Alimony Pendente Lite ("Temporary Alimony")
Temporary alimony is available during the period of separation before the marriage is actually dissolved. The purpose of temporary alimony is to "preserve the status quo" for the financially dependent spouse while the divorce proceedings are underway. Rather than turning on questions of fairness and equity that characterize other alimony decisions, temporary alimony is depends upon the standard of living that prevailed during the marriage and the bread winner's ability to pay.
Where parties enjoyed a very high-or even lavish-standard of living, temporary alimony awards can be very high, but, at a minimum, the Court will attempt to ensure that the financially dependent spouse is not deprived of food, clothing, habitation, legal services or other necessities.
The evidentiary threshold for obtaining temporary alimony is relatively low-divorce lawyers must present evidence that the parties are married, evidence that a divorce is underway, and evidence concerning the respective financial circumstances of the parties. On the other hand, scheduling the Pendente Lite hearing (usually a prerequisite for obtaining temporary alimony) onto the court docket may take many months in some Maryland jurisdictions.
Courts in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County, Harford County and Montgomery County and other Maryland jurisdictions are empowered to compensate for the time gap by awarding temporary alimony retroactive to the date it is requested (if temporary alimony is requested in January and the hearing does not occur until June, then the Court may order the spouse paying alimony to deliver a lump-sum payment representing six months of alimony). Failure of the obligor spouse to pay may result in civil contempt, criminal contempt, and other sanctions deemed appropriate by the Court.
The second type of alimony is rehabilitative alimony and, unlike temporary alimony, rehabilitative alimony is awarded for the period after the marriage is dissolved. The purpose of rehabilitative alimony is to help the economically dependent spouse transition to single life and become self-supporting, if that is possible under the circumstances.
The duration and amount of temporary alimony varies from case to case and the ultimate decision rests on a trial judge-who has a great deal of latitude in making these determinations. Although temporary alimony is a subject of great uncertainty in many family law matters, Maryland's Family Law Article requires the Court to consider the following factors when adjudicating rehabilitative alimony,
- The ability of the party 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 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 property that does not produce income, the nature and amount of the financial obligations of each party, and the right of each party to receive retirement benefits.
Like rehabilitative alimony, indefinite alimony is usually awarded simultaneously with a Judgment of Divorce, but its duration may continue until the recipient spouse dies. In Maryland jurisdictions like Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County, Harford County, and Montgomery County, indefinite alimony is rare and only awarded in one of two situations:
The first circumstance is when the party seeking indefinite alimony can never be expected to become self-supporting because of age, health, or disability. In addition to obtaining an attorney, clients seeking indefinite alimony may also require medical fact witnesses, medical expert witnesses, and a vocational expert to testify about earning potential in light of the spouse's age, health or disability.
The second circumstance justifying an award of indefinite alimony is when the party seeking alimony might make some progress towards becoming self supporting, but, even after that progress is made there will be an "unconscionable disparity" in future standards of living (because the party seeking alimony will always earn so much less than the other party). There is no exact definition of an unconscionable disparity and whether an unconscionable disparity exists is a question that the individual trial judge makes using his or her conscience (that conscience being informed by the evidence properly presented to the Court).
The discussion of this article is only a small insight into the importance and scope of alimony. If you would like to learn more about the role that alimony may have in your Maryland divorce matter, feel free to contact the Law Offices of Amar S. Weisman, in Baltimore County, Maryland, by calling 410-321-4994 to schedule an appointment at our offices in Towson. During the initial consultation, we can discuss this law firm might be able to develop a discovery strategy that helps you obtain your legal goals.
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