Alimony Matters

In Maryland, Alimony determinations are based on Maryland Code, Maryland case law, and Judges may also consider guidelines such as those set forth by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers or the Kaufman Center for Family Law. While none of these sources provides a strict mathematical formula, they do go a long way in offing guidelines for determining Alimony awards.

Maryland Code §11-106 (b) sets forth twelve statutory factors that a Master or Judge must consider when ruling on an alimony issue. The first six factors are presented below; the remaining six factors will be discussed in a future article.

(1)   The ability of the party seeking alimony to be wholly or partly self-supporting.

For example, Jack and Jill married when they were ages 18 and 17 respectively, and have been married for 30 years. Jack finished college and medical school, and is a well-respected neurosurgeon. Meanwhile, Jill gave birth to their first child when she was 18.  Jill never finished high school or received any advanced skills training, and she has been a homemaker for the entire 30 year marriage. Jill is now 47 and has no practical or marketable skills. Under this factor a Judge would need to consider whether given Jill’s age, lack of formal education and training, and lack of employment history, if it is even possible for Jill to obtain an income that will afford her any level of financial stability, much less how long it will take her to reach that level. 

(2)   The time necessary for the party seeking alimony to gain sufficient education or training to enable that party to find suitable employment.

Let’s imagine that instead of being a homemaker, Jill had worked for 20 years as a nurse. She retired about 10 years ago, but may be able to re-enter the nursing workforce. The parties would need to present evidence regarding the need and ability for Jill to update her nursing qualifications in order to become gainfully employed as well as how long it may take her to update her qualifications and what amount of salary she may be able to earn upon her reentry into the workforce. 

(3)   The standard of living that the parties established during the marriage.

Consider the original scenario: Jack is a neurosurgeon, and Jill is a homemaker. Assume Jack earned $600,000 per year, which allowed the couple to live in a beautiful mansion with a full staff, own a vacation villa, travel on three extended vacations yearly, and wear the best designer label clothing. The parties have lived this way for the last 18 years, since Jack finished his residency. A court will take this standard of living into account when deciding what kind of alimony award Jill needs to maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living.

(4)   The duration of the marriage.

Again, let’s look at the original scenario. A 30 year marriage is no small accomplishment. The court is likely to find that Jill is entitled to a greater alimony award for her 30 year marriage than she would be if, all other factors remaining the same, her marriage lasted only four years.

(5)   The contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family.

Under our original scenario, Jack’s monetary contributions should be fairly easy to track. Jill, however, should not feel like her 30 years as a homemaker have no value to the marriage.  While nonmonetary contributions can be more difficult to prove, the courts absolutely assign value to serving as a primary caretaker for the couple’s children, work Jill did to maintain the home, clerical support Jill may have provided to Jack’s medical office, etc.  If Jill was not there to care for the family and household, Jack may not have been able to take the time and training necessary to achieve his medical degree and accompanying salary.  

(6)   The circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties.

 There is no way for a court to assign an accurate monetary value to fault. The system does, however, allow the parties to present reasons why they should, or should not, be entitled to a certain alimony award in the name of fairness. First, let’s assume that Jack came home from work one day and announced that he has been having an affair with his secretary, and he is done with the marriage. The court may find that Jill is entitled to a greater alimony award because she had no way of preparing for the breakdown of her marriage. Consider, instead, that one day Jill informs Jack that she is in love with their cabana boy, and that they are running off to the Caribbean together.  If Jack presents this information to the court, he may have reduced alimony payments because Jill brought the divorce on herself, through no fault of Jack

Clients often ask me how marital fault factors into a divorce in Maryland; without a doubt, Maryland Code §11-106 (b) (6) – The circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties – is a prime example of how fault can be a factor. 

This is the third article in an ongoing series about Alimony. The fourth article will continue with the next six alimony award considerations in the Maryland Code. As always, we here at Delaney & Keffler, LLC will take the time to fully explain Alimony, and help you obtain beneficial information. Contact us today at 410-535-3476 (FIRM) or for a free consultation.

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Posted August 19th, 2011 in Family Law. Tagged: , , , , , .

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