How is Alimony Calculated in Maryland and Virginia?

alimony written on a piece of paper with a broken heart and money in the background to represent how to calculate alimony in MarylandAlimony has gotten the bad rap of being a dirty word — a concept that promotes financial dependence on breadwinners. But in reality, alimony was created to promote security in marriages, as a way of assuring homemakers wouldn’t be screwed over for putting their careers aside during marriage. But let’s be honest, your stance on alimony likely hinges on if you’re the one being asked to pay or asking to receive it. Alimony is not guaranteed. A court may award alimony or the parties may agree to the payment of alimony.

Typically, judges take into consideration a few across-the-board factors when deciding on alimony during divorce, and these include:

  • The standard of living established during your marriage
  • The length of your marriage
  • And sometimes the cause of your marriage’s demise

But in its most basic terms, alimony comes down to one spouse having a financial need and the other having the ability to pay it.

In Maryland, most alimony is termed “rehabilitative alimony,” set for a specific time period to, more or less, get them “back on their feet.” However, there are several different types of alimony based on situation and circumstance. What’s important — regardless of if you’re the one requesting or the one being requested of — is that you understand how your state awards alimony and what types of alimony it typically awards.

This post breaks down what to expect of your alimony options if you’re a resident in Maryland or Virginia.

What Are the Different Types of Alimony?

First, alimony is broken down into short-term (rehabilitative) and long-term (permanent) support. A spouse can also get temporary support, known as alimony pendente lite, which can be awarded or agreed to during the divorce process to maintain your existing standard of living.

A common standard you’ll find across the internet (I know you’ve already searched this) is one year of alimony for every three years of marriage. But you should know that this is not a guarantee, which (you guessed it!) is why you need a good family law lawyer to help you navigate the process.

Support can also be paid in a variety of ways, including periodic installments for a specific amount of time, payments for an unspecified duration, as well as in lump sum form. Having an experienced attorney is going to be your best bet to getting or giving what you think is fair when it comes to alimony in divorce.

Temporary or Pendente Lite Alimony

Pendente Lite alimony is temporary support until a final trial, to allow a spouse to maintain his or her status quo until a final determination is made. It is important to remember that an award of temporary or pendente lite alimony does not determine permanent or rehabilitative alimony or whether alimony will even be awarded. It can either be litigated and awarded in court, or even better, is the parties can agree to a temporary amount of alimony until a date certain like when the dependent spouse has obtained employment.

Rehabilitative Alimony

Rehabilitative alimony is short-term support and is typically the most common form of alimony. This support only lasts a few years, allowing the dependent spouse time to be educated or trained for a job. Yes, ideally payments stop when the dependent spouse is employed and on his or her feet financially. Additionally, payments can actually be restricted if the dependent spouse is not making efforts toward their future financial stability.

On average, rehabilitative alimony lasts anywhere from three to 10 years — a big range that makes a big difference when it comes to receiving or giving support. I repeat, good representation can make or break your deal.

Indefinite Alimony

Indefinite alimony, or permanent support, is more rarely awarded and only so when age (e.g., nearing retirement or in retirement), illness, or disability keeps you from making progress to support yourself, or your ex’s living standards are extremely disparate from your own. Permanent support assumes the dependent spouse will need support indefinitely and will not likely go back into the workforce.

You’re also more likely to receive (or give) ongoing spousal support if you were engaged in a long-term marriage. However, this type of alimony typically does end if the dependent spouse remarries or one of you dies. This amount may also be revisited if the paying spouse retires.

An award of indefinite alimony is very situational and is historically awarded when a spouse has sacrificed and supported the family or spouse while the other trained for a lucrative profession, with the expectation that this sacrifice will eventually pay off. For example, a spouse who supported their partner through medical school or residency under the assumption that this sacrifice would pay off once their spouse became a doctor.

However, an award of indefinite alimony in our area (the "DMV") and this day-in-age is unlikely. Typically both spouses are two-income earners providing for the household. It just may be that one spouse earns a disproportionate amount (i.e. significantly higher) income than the other spouse and that creates the need for indefinite alimony.

How to Calculate Alimony in Maryland

So how is alimony actually determined? My favorite answer: it depends. In Maryland, courts consider the following:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The age and health of the parties
  • The ability of the party who is seeking alimony to be wholly or partly self-supporting
  • The reasons for the parties' estrangement and divorce
  • The standard of living established during the marriage
  • The length of time it would take one party to become self-supporting
  • The contributions, both monetary and non-monetary, of each party to the well-being of the family
  • All income and assets, including property
  • The right of each party to receive retirement benefits
  • The ability of the party from whom alimony is sought to meet his or her own financial needs while meeting the needs of the party seeking alimony

In Virginia, courts take into consideration all of the factors Maryland courts do, but also assess the following:

  • The current earning capacity and employment opportunities of the individual requesting alimony
  • Whether either party has contributed to education, training, career position or profession of the other party
  • Decisions during the marriage (e.g., parenting arrangements) and their effect on present and future earning potential of the parties

Another important note on Virginia: alimony will typically not be awarded to spouses who commit adultery. Maryland does consider marital fault when determining alimony, in that the spouse at fault can end up paying more in alimony than they would have in a no-fault divorce.

Neither Maryland nor Virginia have formulas they use to calculate alimony amount, but there are several Maryland and Virginia calculators out there if you want to attempt some sort of estimate. Again, because so many of these factors are subjective, your best bet for receiving or paying the alimony you find fair is to hire experienced legal representation. Your result is often directly reflective of the skill of your attorney.

We can help you reach modify, and enforce alimony agreements and court orders regarding alimony. You should call and schedule a consultation at (301) 637-6070, and I’ll help you understand your options.