Alimony, or spousal support, is something the court can order as part of a divorce in Maryland. Unlike many other states, Maryland does not have any alimony guidelines. There are specific factors considered in the alimony decisions in Maryland. When you request alimony, the court must review the evidence and testimony in your trial for ten to twelve different factors. Some factors weigh more heavily than others. However, it is not like the Maryland Child Support Guideline where there is a determined calculator—it is far more at the discretion of the court.
There are two types of alimony awarded in Maryland: indefinite alimony and rehabilitative alimony. Indefinite alimony is more uncommon these days. Indefinite alimony is a type of alimony that is paid to a spouse after a very long marriage, perhaps 25 – 40 years. It’s a monthly payment that doesn’t end until the payor or the payee passes away or gets married. It’s usually only awarded in a situation with a very long marriage where the party who is requesting the alimony has no way to be self-supporting and never will. For example, if the party is disabled, very elderly, was a stay-at-home parent and spouse for 20 years, etc.
Rehabilitative alimony is much more common. Rehabilitative alimony is paid to support a spouse in a transitional period while they become self-supporting. It is a certain amount of money paid for a limited amount of time.
Some factors the court considers in determining an alimony award include needs, resources, the ability to be self-supporting, and the standard of living established during the marriage. Alimony is not a punishment; it is not something you’re owed because you gave them the best shares of your life—alimony has a purpose. The purpose is for the spouse who is receiving the payment to become self-supporting.
If you are requesting alimony, your needs are something for the court to consider. How much do you need? How long do you need it for? Where is it going? Are you going to get job training or go back to school? These are factors considered as needs.
The resources of the paying party are an issue for consideration. The court’s not going to order alimony to be paid by someone who can’t afford to live while paying alimony. The paying party needs to be able to have the resources to actually pay the alimony.
The age and health of the parties are other factors. Again, alimony awarded to the elderly or disabled is going to be more likely. The length of the marriage is also a consideration. Marriages lasting three, five, or seven years are probably not looking at an alimony case. Rehabilitative alimony is more likely when you’re coming out of a twenty-plus-year marriage.
Finally, other factors the court weighs are the ability of the party receiving alimony to become self-supporting. Again, looking into what that receiving party’s plan is and how they’re going to support themselves, the court must weigh out the list of factors in the case when they decide to award alimony or not. Since there are no guidelines, the amount and duration of the alimony are based on what the court thinks is fair and what the court thinks is necessary.
If you think alimony is going to be an issue in your case, you should have a conversation with an attorney to ensure it is dealt with in the right way. Sometimes you can reach an agreement on alimony and save yourself the risk of going to trial where a judge can order an award you’re really unhappy with. Often, the parties are too far apart; one is asking for an enormous amount for a long period and the other doesn’t think there should be any alimony paid. In that situation, you have to go to court to make your case. It’s a lot easier to make a case for or against alimony with an attorney who is familiar with those factors than it would be to do it on your own.
What Does the Court Look at in Maryland When Determining the Division of Assets?
Maryland is an equitable division state. The law states a judge is charged with a two-part job: (1) identifying marital assets and their value; and (2) determining an equitable division of those assets. Equitable does not always mean equal—it doesn’t have to be a fifty-fifty division of assets—it just must be fair.
Several factors go into a fair division of assets. There is a strict definition of what is marital property and what is not. Generally, anything acquired during the marriage is marital property. It doesn’t have to be titled to both parties, just to have been acquired during the marriage. Items such as real estate, a home, retirement accounts, bank accounts, etc. are considered marital property, even if it only has one person’s name on it. There are exceptions to this rule; for example anything inherited or gifted to one of the parties is not marital property.
Anything acquired before the marriage, that has not been comingled, is not a marital asset. Meaning if you opened a bank account before you married and then never touched it during the marriage, that’s not marital. However, if you acquired an asset before the marriage, but continued to utilize it after the marriage, it may be partially marital. For example, a retirement account you started before the marriage, but you continued to contribute to, or your employer contributed to, will be partially marital.
The second part is determining an equitable division. For some things, what’s equitable, or what’s fair, is going to depend on the circumstances of your case. What are the circumstances that led to the breakup? How much separate property does each party have? If one party has received a $5 million inheritance and the other party is living in low-income housing, these are things the court will consider.
Clients call all the time saying they want to file for divorce, and they have no assets because they don’t have joint accounts or only one party is on a title. In reality, if either of the parties own their home, or have a retirement account, those are marital assets; they have value, and they are going to be divided by the court.
The good news is, there’s not usually a lot to fight over in these cases—when your home and your retirement accounts are the only assets you have—the court is usually going to split the assets fifty-fifty, unless one party can prove some unusual circumstance that makes it equitable to do something different.. With division of real estate either one party will refinance and buy out the other party, or the parties will be ordered to sell the home and divide the proceeds. Retirement accounts are divided by way of a special order called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order or a Constituted Pension Order or Retirement Benefits Order, this is an order drafted by the parties and signed by the court that is sent to the plan administrator of the retirement account so that they can divide it between the spouses.
When those are your only assets, it’s a safe bet that you divide those assets equally with a settlement, saving yourself the legal fees associated with a trial. You must have a special circumstance to convince the court to do something besides the fifty-fifty split of those assets. The most important thing is to have a well written comprehensive agreement that specifies what is being divided, how it is being divided, and provides for some contingencies. For example, what if the parties agree to sell the home but in the end the sale price is less than what is owed on the mortgage. When dividing retirement accounts or pensions, death benefits must be addressed in any agreement as well. If you have assets to divide you should have an attorney draft your agreement.
For more information on Divorce Law in Maryland, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (443) 300-2335 today.