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Maryland alimony promotes financial independence for divorcing spouses

On behalf of Shelly McKeon
Maryland law prefers that an alimony award only last as long as it reasonably takes for the recipient spouse to become self-supporting.

Family law is mostly governed by state law and U.S. states vary considerably in how they treat alimony awards. Alimony is usually a series of periodic payments from one ex-spouse to the other for support. In the state of Maryland, the policy of lawmakers in crafting alimony standards has been to promote and encourage divorcing husbands and wives to eventually support themselves financially if reasonably possible, even if it means going back to school or getting job training.

Temporary alimony

When a divorce is filed, the judge has discretion to award alimony “pendente lite” or temporary alimony so that one spouse must support the other during the pendency of the divorce proceeding, ending when the divorce is final. At that point, regular alimony begins if ordered in the divorce.

Negotiated alimony

It can be advantageous for divorcing spouses to try to negotiate the terms of an alimony award, usually as part of a larger settlement of all legal issues in the divorce, because even if they need to compromise, at least each will have some input into the arrangement. Normally each is represented by legal counsel in the negotiation process.

Maryland law specifically provides that an alimony agreement made by the divorcing parties is binding on the court. If they cannot come to an agreement about alimony, the issue will be decided by the Maryland state court judge handling the divorce.

Judge-made alimony awards

In order to fashion a “fair and equitable” alimony award, the judge must consider all important factors in the individual circumstances of the divorcing spouses, including these specific items:

  • Ability of the recipient spouse to completely or partly support him or herself
  • Time it would take for the recipient spouse to get “sufficient education or training” for “suitable employment”
  • Marital standard of living
  • Length of marriage
  • Spousal contributions to the “well-being of the family” financially and otherwise
  • Circumstances of marital “estrangement” (although Maryland law says that marital misconduct is not an “automatic bar” against receiving alimony)
  • Spousal ages
  • Spousal health, mental and physical
  • Ability of the paying spouse to meet his or her own needs if required to pay alimony
  • Agreements between the spouses
  • Spousal financial needs and resources, including income, assets, non-income-producing property, property division in the divorce, debts and retirement assets
  • Whether the paying spouse is institutionalized and paying alimony would hasten eligibility for medical assistance

In essence, Maryland alimony law tells the judge to look at how long it should reasonably take for the recipient spouse to “make substantial progress toward becoming self-supporting” and order alimony for a period of time reflecting that finding.

On the other hand, the law allows alimony for an “indefinite period,” or ongoing with no end date, if, because of “age, illness, infirmity, or disability,” it is not reasonable to expect the recipient spouse to become self-supporting.

Ongoing alimony may also be ordered if, even after the ex-spouse receiving support progresses reasonably toward self-sufficiency, the disparity between the “respective standards of living of the parties” will be unconscionable, or shockingly unfair.

Unless the ex-spouses had a different agreement or the court had ordered alimony of limited duration that had already ended, alimony ends when either of them dies, when the recipient spouse remarries or the court ends it to “avoid a harsh and inequitable result. In certain instances, an alimony award may be modified or extended by the court.

Anyone in Maryland facing alimony issues should speak with an experienced divorce attorney for advice and representation.

Keywords: Maryland, alimony, spouse, support, fair, equitable, factors, self-supporting

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