Topics on this page
- Alimony and Its Purpose
- Types of Alimony
- Factors the court will consider in alimony decisions
- Amount of Alimony Award
- Tax Consequences of Alimony
- Attorneys Fees
- Enforcement of Alimony Award
- Termination of Alimony
Alimony and Its Purpose
Alimony is a periodic payment from one former spouse to the other. Alimony's purpose is to provide an opportunity for the recipient spouse to become self-supporting. If alimony is awarded, it is usually “rehabilitative alimony” for a certain period of time to allow a dependent spouse to become self-supporting.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law Title 11
Generally, alimony can be awarded only before the final ending of the marriage. If you fail to make a claim for alimony as part of your divorce, you cannot come back after the marriage has ended and start an alimony claim. The Supreme Court of Maryland (formerly the 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 about alimony, the court will likely be bound by that agreement. This means that the court cannot change the agreement as part of your divorce. An agreement between spouses can be broader than what the court might decide if asked to award alimony on its own. For example, the court will only award a periodic monetary payment. However, an agreement between the divorcing spouses may cover payment of a mortgage or other type of support.
NOTE: As a result of Maryland’s equal rights amendment, the court may require either a husband or a wife in a marriage to pay alimony.
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law § 11-101(b)
Divorce Series: Asking for Spousal Support or Alimony from the Maryland Courts
Types of alimony
Alimony pendente lite
Alimony pendente lite is temporary financial support provided to one spouse during the divorce process. A court can award this type of alimony between the time you file for divorce (and request alimony) and the time the divorce is final. This temporary support aims to ensure that both spouses can maintain a reasonable standard of living during the divorce process, especially if one spouse earns significantly less or is financially dependent on the other. Alimony pendente lite is distinct from permanent alimony, which may be awarded as part of the divorce decree. Being awarded alimony pendente lite does not mean you will be awarded alimony after the divorce.
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law, § 11-102
Rehabilitative alimony is financial support awarded to a spouse to help them while they work to become self-supporting. This may involve obtaining education, training, or work experience that allows the spouse to secure employment and become self-sufficient. Rehabilitative alimony is usually awarded for a specific purpose and duration. For example, a court may award you rehabilitative alimony for the two years it takes you to return to school and finish a degree program that will enable you to support yourself.
Indefinite alimony is financial support that is awarded without a predetermined end date. Indefinite alimony is a relatively rare type of alimony. It is typically awarded when one spouse has a significantly lower earning capacity or financial need. The court determines that long-term support is necessary to maintain a reasonable standard of living. This may occur in cases where a spouse has limited employability, is unable to work due to health reasons, or has other circumstances that make it challenging for them to become financially independent. Alimony awards may be modified, extended, changed, or ended in the future. This may happen if one of the ex-spouses asks the court to consider the alimony amount in the future and circumstances have changed
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 11–106
Factors the Court Will Consider
When a court considers whether to award alimony, it considers various factors to determine the type, amount, and duration of the alimony. These factors are outlined in the Maryland Code, Family Law Section 11-106. The importance of each factor depends on individual circumstances. Judges (and magistrates) have very broad discretion.
Factors the court will consider in alimony decisions - the court shall consider all the factors for a fair and equitable award, including but not limited to:
- Financial needs and resources of each party: The court considers both spouses' financial situation, income, and assets. The court will review:
- All income and assets, including all property that does not produce income;
- Any monetary award concerning property and award of possession and use of the family property;
- The nature and amount of the financial obligations of each party;
- The right of each party to receive retirement benefits
- Standard of living during the marriage: The court may look at the lifestyle and standard of living established during the marriage.
- Duration of the marriage: The length of the marriage is a significant factor. Longer marriages may be more likely to result in alimony awards.
- Contributions to the marriage: The court considers the contributions, both financial and non-financial, of each spouse to the marriage.
- Circumstances leading to the divorce: The reasons for the divorce may be considered, especially if one spouse's actions significantly contributed to the breakdown of the marriage.
- Agreements between the parties: Any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements between the spouses may impact the court's decision.
- Age and health of each party: Both spouses' physical and mental health can be a factor in determining alimony.
- Ability of the party seeking alimony to be self-supporting: The court evaluates the recipient spouse's ability to support themselves and may consider factors such as education, job skills, and employment opportunities.
- Whether the award would cause a paying spouse or a spouse who is a care facility resident with more than two patients to become eligible for medical assistance earlier than would otherwise occur.
The court has discretion to consider any other factors it deems relevant to the case's specific circumstances. Alimony decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, and the court considers the unique facts of each situation. Additionally, the factors may be applied differently depending on the type of alimony sought.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 11–106
Although the court is not required to use a formal checklist, it must demonstrate consideration of all necessary factors, including any that are not expressly listed in this section. Such "other factors" can be defined as any factors the court may deem necessary or appropriate to arrive at a fair and equitable alimony award.
Amount of Alimony Award
The amount of the alimony award depends on the specific facts of each situation. It is up to the court to determine the amount of the alimony award. The court must, however, consider statutory and other factors when determining the amount of alimony to be awarded.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 11–106
Tax Consequences of Alimony
It is important to understand the tax consequences of alimony payments. Significant changes to the tax treatment of alimony took effect on January 1, 2019, with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
The following provides an overview of tax consequences based on the date the alimony award or agreement went into effect:
Agreements prior to January 1, 2019:
- alimony is considered taxable income for the recipient spouse. The recipient must report alimony as income on their federal tax return.
- the paying spouse can deduct alimony payments from their taxable income on their federal tax return.
Agreements after January 1, 2019:
Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act:
- Alimony payments are no longer deductible for the paying spouse.
- Alimony received is no longer considered taxable income for the recipient.
Modifications of alimony agreements after January 1, 2019, will receive the same treatment as long as the modification:
- changes the terms of the alimony, and
- states that alimony is not deductible to the payor and is not income to the receiving spouse.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Tax-General § 10-101
The obligation for paying attorney’s fees and costs related to bringing an action for divorce is closely related to alimony. The court may mandate that one party provide financial support for the other party's legal representation and associated costs, depending on the parties' financial situation. This encompasses expenses like court fees and, in certain instances, the fees incurred by a private investigator.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 11-110
Enforcement of Alimony Award
If the spouse ordered to pay alimony fails to make payments, the recipient spouse can file a motion for contempt with the court. An order, award, or decree relating to alimony or disposition of property may be enforced by contempt proceedings. A motion for contempt informs the court of non-compliance by the paying spouse and may lead to penalties. The Maryland Rules govern contempt proceedings. When a person fails to comply with a judgment prohibiting or mandating action, the court may hold the person in contempt of court.
Read the Law: Md. Rule 2-648
Termination of Alimony
Unless agreed to otherwise, alimony ends on the following:
- the death of either spouse,
- the recipient spouse remarries, or
- if the court finds that termination of alimony is necessary for fairness (avoid a harsh and inequitable result).
- for alimony pendente lite – when duration or fixed term is completed.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 11–108