Alimony/Maintenance/Spousal Support in a Maryland Divorce

There are two types of alimony.

  • Alimony during the wait for the divorce. This is also called "alimony pedente lite". A court can award this type of alimony between the time you file for divorce (and make a request for alimony) and the time the divorce is final. The purpose of this type of alimony is to maintain the status quo during the divorce. It does not necessarily mean that you will be awarded alimony after the divorce.
  • Alimony after the divorce.

Permanent  alimony is payment made by one party to the other after the divorce, either by court order or by mutual agreement. This type of post-divorce payment is also sometimes referred to as maintenance. Until 1980, there were no provisions under Maryland law for alimony. The Divorce Code of 1980 provides that the court may allow alimony to either party "only if it finds that alimony is necessary." As a result of Maryland's equal rights amendment, either a husband or a wife in a marriage may be required by the court to pay alimony. Md. Code Ann. Family Law §11-101(b).

Under Maryland law, married people are financially responsible for each other - the husband has a duty to support his wife, and the wife has a duty to support her husband. This duty lasts until the final Decree in Divorce is granted. It doesn't stop simply because the couple separates. Once the parties file for a mutual-consent no-fault divorce, they must wait at least 90 days and often significantly longer before the final Decree in Divorce is granted. During this period, an agreement on support payments may be appropriate if the parties are separated.

Alimony can be awarded only before the final ending of the marriage. Failure to make a claim for alimony as part of a divorce means that you cannot come back later after the marriage has ended and start an alimony claim. The Maryland Court of Appeals has noted," [t]he longstanding rule in Maryland - that the right to claim alimony is extinguished at the time of the severance of the marital relationship." Altman v. Altman, 282 Md. 483, 490, 386 A. 2d 766 (1978).

Alimony in Maryland is authorized in limited situations and is not the broad remedy that it is in other states. Alimony in Maryland is either "rehabilitative"  or "indefinite" .

Rehabilitative alimony is intended to be a short-term measure which enables a spouse to get back on his or her feet. Alimony is awarded to enable the other spouse to go back to school or to acquire needed skills that would enable the spouse to be competitive in the job market. Usually a spouse who has chosen the role of becoming a homemaker and raising children has not been able to develop the skills necessary for productive and gainful employment.

"Permanent or indefinite alimony" continues for a long period of time, possibly until the death of the party receiving the alimony and is usually awarded when one of the parties is unable to work due to age physical or mental illness. This is a relatively rare type of alimony awarded with no specific end point. You may receive alimony if (because of your age, an illness, or a disability) you cannot (1) make reasonable progress toward supporting yourself or (2) even if you can make reasonable progress; your ex-spouse's standard of living is "unconscionably disparate" from yours. "Unconscionably disparate" means that there is a very large and unfair difference between your living standards. Alimony awards may be changed or ended in the future. This may happen if one of the ex-spouses asks the court to consider the alimony amount in the future.

If you signed an agreement about alimony, the court is likely to be "bound" by that agreement. This means that the court will not be able to change the agreement as part of your divorce. An agreement between spouses can be broader than what the court might decide if asked to award alimony on its own. For example, the court will only award a periodic monetary payment, however an agreement may cover payment of a mortgage or other type of support.

  • The court will consider a long list of factors in deciding if you or your spouse should get alimony. These factors include: length of your marriage; your financial situation during the marriage, now and in the future; your age, physical and mental health; and the reasons for the divorce. How important each factor is will depend on individual circumstances and judges (and masters) have very broad discretion. Take the alimony quiz to see if you should consider a claim for alimony.

    Factors the court will consider in alimony decisions
    - the court shall consider all the factors for a fair and equitable award, including: but not limited to:
    • 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.

Although the court is not required to use a formal checklist, it must demonstrate consideration of all necessary factors, including any that are not expressly listed in this section.  Such "other factors" can be defined as any factors that the court may deem necessary or appropriate in order to arrive at a fair and equitable award of alimony.

Here is a Quiz you can take which will help you determine if you are entitled to alimony:

Click here to go to the People's Law Library to take the quiz.

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