“How much do I have to pay?"
That’s the question I hear over and over, usually when a husband talks to me about spousal support, or alimony.
“How much can I get?"
That’s what I hear, usually when a wife is facing the prospect of dividing one household into two and trying to split the difference.
Either way, the question is the same: isn’t there some way to predict an amount? So far in Maryland, the answer is, “no." That’s not very comforting no matter which side of the equation you find yourself. Some states have a formula for figuring out how much alimony has to be paid, but Maryland is not one of them. The fact is, the amount you have to pay (or get) can be as different as the judge who hears your case and the quality of the lawyer who represents you. Because of that, the answer I always give clients who ask the question, “How much?" is, “I don’t know."
Maryland has three basic kinds of alimony, or spousal support:
• temporary alimony (or, “pendente lite," a complicated word that just means “during litigation"); This type of alimony is based only on two things: need and ability to pay. The purpose of temporary alimony is to keep the “economically dependent" spouse (and/or family) from being turned out into the street because he or she can’t pay the rent or mortgage, utilities, groceries, and other things that historically have been paid by the income of the “economically superior" spouse. That’s where the “ability to pay" comes into the equation.
What I do to help a client in a situation where temporary alimony is an issue depends on which party I represent.
If it’s the economically dependent spouse, I have to give the court evidence of how much the other spouse paid for what the family or spouse “needed" during the marriage (this is a historical picture). I also have to prove to the court that my client is not able to bring in enough cash to make up for the lost income of the other spouse.
Practically speaking, if I represent the economically superior spouse, I work like crazy to reach a sensible agreement outside of court. This isn’t because I have any opinions on the “fairness" of whether or not he or she should pay temporary alimony. It is because I know that I have no way to predict what the master or judge will do when he or she decides whether and how much my client will have to pay. If I can’t stay out of court, or if the other side won’t be reasonable, then I put on the best case I can to prove that the only thing my client should pay is actual historical need, not the wish list of the other party.
Procedurally, if there is a child support issue, I work to resolve the issue of temporary alimony immediately. Alimony plays a big role in the determination of child support in Maryland. It is counted as income to the payee and is deducted from the income of the payor. Depending on who I represent, this can even out the percentage share of income paid by an economically superior spouse. That is why it is included in the child support calculation.
I also try to get the issue of temporary alimony resolved quickly, but not too quickly. Maryland courts have different procedures for deciding “pendente lite" (temporary) child support in family law cases. In some jurisdictions, a hearing is held before any information is exchanged between the parties to figure out what the income and expense equation is. In fact, Maryland law does not require any kind of exchange of this critical information before a court decides temporary alimony and child support. I’ve seen too many ridiculous temporary alimony and child support awards to want to run the risk of going before a judge before I have the information I need. On the other hand, I’ve seen needy families go without what they really need for too long when the decision on temporary support is postponed. Setting the date for the decision has to be a balance between the two.
Even getting a simplified explanation of alimony in Maryland is enough to make most folks’ eyes glaze over. I’m breaking this article into four sections. Look for my next article on Maryland’s second type of alimony, rehabilitative (or statutory) alimony, next week.