Alimony in Maryland

When a couple separates or divorces, spousal support, commonly referred to as alimony, may be ordered by the court. Under Maryland law, spousal support is an order of one spouse to pay the other a certain amount of money each month for a certain length of time. Both husbands and wives may be entitled to spousal support, depending on the parties’ specific financial circumstances and income. Where there is a variance in the earning of one partner from the other, the person who earns less may wish to seek spousal support from the other person.

Spousal support is to be used to cover everyday expenses and helps the lesser earning spouse transition after a divorce or separation. After the parties separate, but before the parties have a final divorce entered, either party may request a pendente lite (temporary) spousal support order from the court. This will happen in the form of a pendente lite hearing. Pendente lite spousal support is a payment made from the spouse who earns more money to the other individual. It is referred to as pendente lite spousal support because it provides financial assistance to the lesser earning spouse during the divorce proceedings, but it ends if, and when, a final spousal support award has been ordered by the court at trial.

Pendente lite spousal support will be calculated upon consideration of a number of financial factors, but generally is awarded when one party has a financial need and the other party has the financial ability to meet that need (or a portion of that need). The purpose of pendente lite spousal support is to try and maintain the marital standard of living while the parties are in transition.

In contrast, a final order of alimony is ordered by the court upon consideration of various factors laid out by Maryland law. Once the court considers these factors, then it will order spousal support as part of the final divorce judgment. It is the policy in Maryland to support each spouse in becoming self-sufficient whenever possible and within a reasonable period of time. Maryland law disfavors the view that alimony is a “lifetime pension.”

Spousal support can be modified or terminated so long as the original order granting support does not contain agreed upon language stating that the support is non-modifiable. For spousal support to be non-modifiable, it means that the parties agreed to the amount and duration of the spousal support and included language within that agreement to assure its non-modifiability.  To voluntarily modify spousal support, the parties can agree to change the amount or duration of support and enter into a written agreement which would be incorporated into a court order. If the parties cannot agree whether to modify alimony, and if the parties did not agree to its non-modifiability, then the parties may make a request to the court to determine whether spousal support duration or amounts should be modified.

For spousal support to be modified by the court, the person requesting the modification must file a motion with the court and show that there has been a material change in circumstances from the time the original support order was made. For example, if the supporting party loses a job through no fault of his or her own and has had difficulty finding gainful employment, a court may consider a reduction in the amount of support.

Similarly, you may also able to end the obligation to pay spousal support if you are able to show a change of circumstances that warrants termination. However, if the order was made by agreement to be non-terminable for a set amount of time, then you will not be able to terminate it prior to that date. A support obligation automatically terminates upon the death of the supported spouse.

Spousal support is a very complicated area of divorce and often one of the most contentious issues as well. Having skilled legal advocates on your side during this process is invaluable and necessary to receive optimal results.