February 12th, 2019

FAQs about Divorce in Maryland: Alimony

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Author: Monica Garcia Harms

Divorce in Maryland Alimony

What is alimony?

Alimony, sometimes referred to as spousal support or maintenance, is a periodic payment made by one spouse to the other, on a continuing basis, in order to assist the receiving spouse in meeting his or her living expenses and financial needs.  

What are the different types of alimony?

There are 3 types of alimony: Rehabilitative Alimony, Indefinite (permanent) Alimony, and Pendente Lite Alimony.

Rehabilitative alimony refers to an alimony award that is for a set period of time (e.g., 18 months, 5 years, 10 years).  The purpose of this type of alimony award is to provide the receiving spouse financial support during a set period of time in order to become self-supporting.  

Indefinite alimony refers to an alimony award that is indefinite, with no specification as to when it ends.  Indefinite alimony is most often seen in long-term marriages, where only one party has worked outside the home, where one party is unable to be self-supporting because of age or infirmity, and/or where the lifestyles of the parties will be unconscionably disparate following the divorce without an indefinite alimony award. This type of alimony award terminates upon remarriage or death of the receiving spouse. 

Pendente lite alimony is temporary alimony awarded in the early stages of a divorce case, typically between the time you file for divorce and when the divorce is finalized. The factors the Court considers when determining pendente lite alimony are the reasonable financial needs of the party requesting alimony and the other party’s ability to pay.  The purpose of pendente lite alimony is to maintain the financial “status quo” of the parties during the pendency of the divorce litigation.

How is alimony determined?

Unlike child support, there are no sanctioned “guidelines” or calculators for the determination of alimony.  Instead, in determining how much and for how long alimony should be awarded, the Court looks to a number of different statutory factors, including, but not limited to:

  • The ability of the party seeking alimony to be self-supporting;
  • The time necessary for the party seeking alimony to gain sufficient education or training to become self-supporting;
  • The standard of living that the parties established during the marriage;
  • The duration of the marriage;
  • Both the monetary and non-monetary contributions of each party to the well-being of the family;
  • The circumstances contributing to the breakdown of the marriage;
  • The age of each party;
  • The physical and mental condition of each party;
  • The ability of the party from whom alimony is sought to pay alimony while still supporting herself or himself;
  • Any agreement between the parties; and
  • The financial needs and financial resources of each party.

Because of the subjective nature of these factors, alimony is rarely a guarantee in a case.  Unlike child support, which can often be a straightforward calculation of incomes and direct expenses for the children, predicting an alimony outcome can be more difficult and requires an in depth analysis. 

Is alimony modifiable?

It depends.  When alimony is ordered by the Court, it is always modifiable, both in amount and in duration, where circumstances and justice require.  When alimony is determined by an agreement between the parties, such as a separation agreement, the parties can agree on whether alimony will be non-modifiable or modifiable.  The terms of alimony, including amount, duration and whether either is modifiable, can be included in the parties’ agreement.

Can non-modifiable alimony be changed? 

Typically, no.  When the parties agree that alimony will be non-modifiable by the Court, their written agreement should contain clear language that removes the Court’s ability to later make any changes to the agreed-upon alimony structure.  The parties to the agreement, however, can agree to make changes later on, but absent such agreement, the Court is typically unable to change non-modifiable alimony.  

Will I still receive my alimony if my former spouse loses his job?

If the alimony is court-ordered, then upon a material change in circumstances, either party is able to go back to the Court to request that the alimony be modified. So if the party ordered to pay alimony has a financial change that makes her or him unable to pay, then he or she can seek a modification of the obligation. The Court may consider a request to modify alimony if the party seeking the modification proves that a material change of circumstances has occurred since the time the alimony was ordered. On the other hand, if the alimony award was part of a formal, written agreement where the parties designated the alimony as non-modifiable, even if one spouse’s financial circumstances change, it is highly unlikely that either party would be successful in getting the non-modifiable alimony agreement modified by the Court.

Will I still receive alimony if I get remarried?

No. Unless the parties agree otherwise, alimony terminates when either party dies, when the person receiving the alimony gets remarried, or if the court finds that termination is necessary to avoid a harsh and inequitable result.  

If I receive alimony, will I have to pay taxes on it?

The law recently changed on this issue. In Maryland, prior to January 1, 2019, unless the parties agreed otherwise, alimony was taxable income to the person receiving the alimony and deductible by the person paying the alimony. Post January 1, 2019, agreements and court orders require that alimony be treated “tax neutral”, like child support. Therefore, the payment of alimony is not a deduction for the payor and the receipt of an alimony payment does not generate a tax obligation for the payee. 

Should I keep records of all alimony payments made or received? 

It is always a good idea to keep documentation of all alimony payments made or received, whether that is copies of cancelled checks or bank statements showing direct deductions/deposits.  Furthermore, should enforcement of the alimony, or modification of alimony, ever become an issue, having clear documentation of all payments made or received will be extremely helpful for you and your lawyer.