Alimony is a periodic payment by one spouse (or former spouse once the divorce is granted) to the other. While there is still the prospect of an award of permanent alimony in some instances, the overarching objective of alimony is to provide an opportunity for the economically dependent spouse to become self-supporting. If alimony is awarded, therefore, it is usually “rehabilitative alimony” for a finite period of time in order to permit the dependent spouse to finish school, training or be in the workforce for a sufficient period of time to become self-supporting.
Alimony can only be awarded while the divorce is pending, and not after an absolute divorce has been granted. Failure to make a claim for alimony during the divorce precludes you from coming back after a later date when the marriage has ended and seeking alimony. 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.”
If you signed an agreement that included alimony, the court is likely to be “bound” by that agreement. This means that unless the agreement itself permits the modification of alimony, the court will not be able to change the agreement as it pertains to alimony as part of your divorce or at a later date. Since spouses are adults, they are typically free to contract to something that goes further than what a court might be permitted to do if asked to make an award of alimony. For example, a court may only award a periodic monetary payment which can be modified as alimony, but the parties can agree to alimony that cannot be modified or can agree to the payment of a mortgage as constituting alimony and so forth.
Types of Alimony
Alimony Pendente Lite. A court may award this type of alimony for interim relief between the time you initially file for divorce (and make a request for alimony) and the time the divorce is final. The purpose of this type of alimony is simply to maintain the status quo while the litigation is pending and the divorce is not final. The granting of alimony pendente lite does not necessarily mean that alimony will be awarded for this amount or at all once the case is up for trial and final relief.
Rehabilitative Alimony. This is the type of alimony most likely to be awarded, given the court’s current emphasis on rehabilitative as opposed to permanent alimony. It is generally fashioned with a time-limited goal in mind, such as going back to school and obtaining a degree or certification in a particular field. For example, a court may order alimony for a finite period of time of one to five years to permit a party time to go back to school, complete a degree and obtain a job.
Indefinite Alimony. This is a less common form of alimony that is for an indefinite period of time. A person may be eligible for indefinite alimony if, because of one’s age, illness or disability, the individual cannot make reasonable progress towards being self-supporting. Alternatively, a spouse may be eligible for indefinite alimony even if he or she can make reasonable progress towards being self-supporting if, after you have made said progress, the other spouse’s standard of living is “unconscionably disparate” from the economically dependent spouse. In order to make a finding that the standards of living are unconscionably disparate, the court must find that the difference between the standards is quite large and unfair.
Alimony awards may be modified or terminated at a later date unless the parties have agreed to non-modifiable alimony. The standard for courts to consider modification or termination of alimony is a material change in circumstance.
In deciding rehabilitative or indefinite alimony, the court will consider a host of factors, including, but not limited to, the duration of the marriage, the age and health of the parties, the economic circumstances of the parties, the circumstances which led to the parties divorcing, and the monetary and non-monetary contributions each party made to the marriage. Judges have broad discretion to award alimony and the cases are fact specific, so the relative importance of a given factor may vary from case to case.
Please contact the law office to learn more about how the parties’ particular circumstances bear on this issue.