Alimony is a periodic payment made by one spouse to the former spouse. Alimony’s primary purpose is to provide an opportunity for the recipient spouse to become self-supporting. If alimony is granted, it is referred to as “rehabilitative alimony” for a certain period to permit a dependent spouse to become financially independent.
Generally, alimony can be awarded only before the final termination of the marriage. Failure to claim alimony as part of divorce means that you cannot come back later after the marriage has ended and started an alimony claim. For instance, according to the Maryland Court of Appeals “[t]he longstanding rule in Maryland… that the right to claim alimony is extinguished at the time of the severance of the marital relationship.”
Moreover, if you signed an alimony agreement, the court is likely to be bound by that agreement. This means that the court will not be able to modify the agreement as part of your divorce. An agreement between spouses can be broader than what the court might decide if requested to award alimony on its own.
For example, the court will only grant a periodic monetary payment; however, an agreement between the divorcing spouses may cover the payment of a mortgage or other type of support. As a result of Maryland’s equal rights amendment, either a husband or a wife in a marriage may be mandated by the court to pay alimony.
How Long Does a Couple Have to be Married for the Judge to Order Rehabilitative Alimony?
The judge can order rehabilitative alimony for any length of the marriage. Typically, the judge may order rehabilitative alimony for up to 5 years. Rehabilitative alimony terminates automatically if:
- The spouse receiving the alimony remarries;
- Either spouse passes away; or
- A specific event occurs.
Keep in mind that the judge can extend or alter the amount of a rehabilitative alimony order. If you are requesting the judge to change the order, you need to demonstrate “compelling circumstances.” Compelling circumstances are considered to be good reasons. The judge will consider how long you were married and can extend rehabilitative alimony if:
- Something unexpected occurs that prevents the spouse who receives alimony from becoming self-supporting at the end of the rehabilitation period;
- The spouse who receives alimony has tried to become self-supporting; and
- The spouse who pays alimony can pay it and it is not financially burdening for him or her.
Moreover, the judge can modify the amount of the rehabilitative alimony payments if there has been a “material change of circumstances” during the rehabilitative period. Material change of circumstances translates to something significantly changing in either spouse’s situation. For instance, one of the spouses loses his or her employment, or one of the spouses’ compensation shifts drastically.
How Does the Judge Decide on Alimony?
Judges examine a few different factors to decide whether and how much alimony to award:
- The length of the marriage;
- The age of the parties;
- The parties’ health conditions;
- Both parties’ income, employment, and employability, including whether they could be employable with reasonable effort and more training;
- Both parties’ economic and non-economic contributions to the marriage;
- The parties’ way of life during the marriage;
- Each person’s ability to continue the way of life they had during the marriage;
- Lost economic opportunity because of the marriage and;
- Other factors the court considers to be relevant.
How Much Alimony Will be Paid?
Payment of alimony depends on many factors as mentioned above. Generally, each state will have its criteria for formulating the proper amount on a case-by-case basis. Except for reimbursement alimony or unusual circumstances, the amount of alimony should typically be no more than the receiving spouse’s needs or 30–35 percent of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes when the order is issued.
Furthermore, the Child Support Guidelines encompass a list of what counts as “gross income.” Income the court will not count includes:
- Capital gains income and dividend and interest income which comes from assets you have already fairly divided;
- Gross income a judge used or is using for a child support order;
- If the judge grants “general term alimony” or “rehabilitative alimony,” they may decide not to follow the limits for the duration of the payment of alimony or how much it should be;
Some of the reasons for not following the limitations for the duration may consist of:
- If either party is elderly or has a chronic illness or unusual health circumstances;
- The parties’ tax considerations;
- Whether the spouse paying alimony is providing and paying for health insurance for the ex-spouse;
- Whether the spouse who is paying has been ordered to provide and pay for life insurance for the ex-spouse’s benefit;
- Sources and amounts of unearned income, including capital gains, interest and dividends, annuity, and investment income from assets the spouse paying alimony still has that were not given to the receiving spouse at the time of divorce;
- Residing together for a long time before getting married and sharing money during that time, or living apart before the divorce for a long time. The court may consider these when determining the length of the marriage.
- If a spouse is not able to support themself because the ex-spouse physically or mentally abused them;
- If a spouse is not able to support themself due to not having any property, maintenance, or employment opportunity;
- Any other factor the court considers is relevant and included in a written explanation and;
- If the spouse who is paying alimony remarries, a judge who is deciding whether to increase the alimony will not consider the new spouse’s income.
What are Some Types of Alimony?
Different states may have several types of alimony. For instance, permanent alimony may provide a spouse with spousal support indefinitely. It can last for a long time or even until death. Separation alimony provides spousal support only during the pendency of the separation or divorce action.
Lump-sum alimony results in a one-time payment or exchange of property to offset any future right to spousal support. Reimbursement alimony may be awarded when a spouse assists in paying for college for the other spouse or the acquisition of job skills and the court believes that he or she should be reimbursed for the contribution he or she made. Rehabilitative alimony is financial support that is paid for a specific period to help a spouse become more self-sufficient.
Additionally, rehabilitative alimony is financial support provided for a finite period. It can be ordered for a certain duration, such as one year or three years. Alternatively, it could be ordered in connection to a specific goal or deadline, such as finishing vocational training or completing a degree program.
Moreover, rehabilitative alimony is intended to allow a spouse to become self-sufficient and establish himself or herself financially as mentioned earlier. The financial support permits the recipient spouse to rehabilitate and become a self-supporting individual so that the need for further alimony is extinguished.
Furthermore, this type of alimony is provided in cases in which one spouse has a lower income or earning capacity than the other spouse. The recipient spouse may receive the alimony up to a determined period, such as obtaining employment, acquiring education or skills, or remarrying.
When Do I Need to Contact A Lawyer?
If you have questions or concerns regarding rehabilitative alimony, it may be helpful to contact your local family law attorney to receive more information.