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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT
Alimony

NOTICE: None of these questions and answers constitute legal advice. To
obtain legal advice, consult with an attorney. This is especially important
in divorce and family law matters, in which outcomes are often peculiar to
the particular facts and circumstances of the case.
    Q. What is "alimony"?

    A. Alimony is the payment of money for support of a spouse or former spouse at
    stated periods (monthly or weekly, usually) during the joint lives of the parties so
    long as they are separated.

    Q. What is the difference between alimony and child support?

    A. Alimony is paid to support a spouse or former spouse. Child support is paid to
    support minor children.

    Q. When does alimony start?

    A. The court may order retroactive alimony back to the date the complaint or
    petition seeking alimony was filed.

    Q. Is alimony taxed as income?

    A. Yes, alimony is taxable to the payee and deductible by the payor, provided it
    meets the tax code's definition of alimony (see a lawyer or tax advisor about the
    definition) and the parties have not agreed to make it nondeductible.

    Q. How long does alimony last?

    A. There is no statutory limit, except death or remarriage of the payee. The court
    can order alimony for a fixed length of time, or for an indefinite period. Even when
    the court orders alimony for a fixed length of time, the order can be modified to
    extend alimony for additional time, or for an indefinite period.

    Q. Can alimony continue after remarriage?

    A. Court-ordered alimony terminates upon remarriage of the recipient spouse.
    Maryland's highest court has decided that a separation agreement must contain
    express and clear language indicating intent that alimony will continue after
    remarriage of the recipient spouse. Otherwise, remarriage terminates the alimony
    obligation.

    Q. Why would the court order indefinite alimony?

    A. The court may award alimony for an indefinite period, if the court finds that: (1)
    due to age, illness, infirmity or disability, the party seeking alimony cannot
    reasonably be expected to make substantial progress toward becoming self-
    supporting or (2) even after the party seeking alimony will have made as much
    progress toward becoming self-supporting as can reasonably be expected, the
    respective standards of living of the parties will be unconscionably disparate.

    Q. What does "unconscionably disparate" mean?

    A. The Maryland Court of Appeals consistently has declined to adopt a hard and
    fast rule regarding any disparity in income for purposes of awarding indefinite
    alimony. Each case depends upon its own circumstances. However, gross
    disparities in income levels frequently have been found unconscionable, and have
    supported the award of indefinite alimony.

    Even economic self-sufficiency does not bar an award of indefinite alimony if there
    nonetheless exists an unconscionable economic disparity in the parties'
    standards of living after divorce. In short, the determination of unconscionable
    disparity is made on a case-by-case basis.

    Q. Can an alimony award be modified?

    A. Yes. The court can modify an alimony award upon a showing of a substantial
    change in circumstances justifying a modification.

    Q. Are there circumstances in which a court cannot modify alimony?

    A. Yes. Under Maryland law, a court cannot modify alimony if an agreement of the
    parties specifically states that the provisions with respect to alimony or spousal
    support are not subject to any court modification.

    Q. What is the relationship between alimony and a monetary award?

    A. Maryland courts have said that alimony and a monetary award are "significantly
    interrelated and largely inseparable," but that a monetary award is not a "form of
    nor substitute for" alimony. In other words, the court must consider the two issues
    together in order to achieve a fair result.

    Q. Is there a formula for determining alimony?

    A. No.

    Q. What factors does a court consider in making an alimony award?

    A. Here is a list of factors:  (1) ability to be wholly or partly self-supporting  (2) time
    needed for education or training  (3) the ability of the party from whom alimony is
    sought to meet that party's needs while meeting the needs of the party seeking
    alimony  (4) family living standard.

    In addition, the court looks at many of the same factors considered in making a
    monetary award. Here is a list of some of these factors:  (1) the duration of the
    marriage  (2) the contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the
    well-being of the family  (3) the circumstances that contributed to the
    estrangement of the parties  (4) the age of each party  (5) the physical and mental
    condition of each party  (6) any agreement between the parties  (7) the financial
    needs and financial resources of each party, including: (i) all income and assets,
    including property that does not produce income; (ii) any monetary award or use
    and possession award; (iii) the nature and amount of the financial obligations of
    each party; and (iv) the right of each party to receive retirement benefits.
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