During a divorce, it’s easy for couples to get into heated disputes about alimony. No one wants their divorce to lead to unreasonable financial struggles. No one wants to pay more than they feel is fair.
Accordingly, it’s good to learn the facts. It’s not easy to take your emotion out of a divorce, but you’ll generally be better off focusing on the information that can influence an alimony award. By focusing on the facts and the things you can do, you put yourself in a better position to get the result you deserve.
What is alimony?
Sometimes called spousal support, alimony is a series of payments made by one former spouse to the other. Maryland awards alimony when divorce would interfere with one spouse’s ability to maintain a reasonable standard of living. In most cases, this means one spouse was the main wage earner, and the court expects that person to help support his or her ex.
It’s important to recognize that courts rarely award alimony without an end date in sight. Maryland awards three types of alimony:
- Alimony pendente lite. This is alimony awarded during the divorce proceeding.
- Temporary alimony. With a specific end date.
- Indefinite alimony. With no specific end date.
The court reviews specific factors before setting the amount and duration of any alimony award.
Which factors influence an alimony award?
Maryland law sets forth twelve factors that drive the court’s determination of any alimony award. These factors are all rooted in the circumstances of the marriage and include:
- Each spouse’s earning potential and ability to be self-supporting
- The amount of time it may take for one spouse to gain training and become self-supporting
- The standard of living set during the marriage
- The length of the marriage
- Each spouse’s assets and debts
- Each spouse’s age, physical health and mental condition
- The existence of a valid prenuptial or other agreement that addresses alimony
- The circumstances that led to the divorce
This last point is notable because it often leads to questions about adultery and how adultery might affect alimony.
The law allows courts to consider adultery and other marital misconduct during the award of alimony. However, such misconduct doesn’t automatically block alimony. Nor does such misconduct often weigh among the most important factors. Instead, Maryland tends to weigh the effects of adultery when the adulterer spent a lot of money on the affair. Courts don’t usually use alimony awards to punish bad behavior. They usually look at how the adultery might affect the finances of the spouse seeking the award.
Other alimony odds and ends
While people tend to concern themselves primarily with the amount and length of an alimony award, there are some other interesting alimony facts to consider:
- Indefinite awards are rare and typically apply only in one of two circumstances. The age and health of the spouse receiving alimony suggest he or she cannot reasonably make progress toward self-sufficiency. Or even after the recipient becomes self-sufficient, he or she will still likely suffer from an “unconscionable” difference in standards of living.
- In some circumstances, it is possible to extend an alimony award.
- Awards end when they meet the set deadline, upon the death of either party, whenever the recipient remarries or if the court decides it is necessary to end the alimony to save the payer from a harsh and inequitable situation.
Altogether, the rules for alimony cover a wide range of factors, designations and possible situations. While they may not all apply to your case, it’s important to make sure you understand and address those that do.
The right award makes a big difference
Whether you’re concerned about receiving or paying for alimony, it’s important that you see the court set the right amount and duration. This means making sure the court is aware of all the pertinent facts and how they affect the case. Alimony doesn’t follow a schedule like child support, so the courts have more room to make decisions based on their understanding of the facts.