According to the most recent Census data, 47% of women are in the workforce, and 33% earn more than their spouse. These statistics are very different from those at the time that the Maryland Alimony Act was first adopted in 1980. Thanks to the seismic cultural changes of the past several decades, spousal support laws have become more complex. Many scenarios common in today’s culture may lead to requests for spousal support modification. Perhaps the former spouse receiving support secured a high-paying job that rendered the support no longer necessary, or perhaps the spouse paying support had a drop in income, and he or she can no longer afford the amount of the support order. The following scenarios detail common life changes that can lead to spousal support modification.
After ten years of marriage, Jack and Elizabeth file for divorce. They have two children together, and Jack has been ordered to pay spousal support for the next five years in addition to child support until the children are 18 years old. Elizabeth gets remarried to a new man, thus giving Jack a valid defense to contest the continuation of his spousal report responsibilities.
The following factors can lead to the termination and/or modification of alimony:
- You or your ex reaches the age of social security eligibility;
- Either of you becomes eligible for a severance package;
- The alimony payment plan makes you or your ex-spouse eligible to apply for termination or modification of the plan at a certain age.
By statute in Maryland, alimony terminates upon the remarriage of the recipient spouse. However, it has become an increasingly popular arrangement over the last couple of decades for parties to draft agreements which provide for alimony to terminate in the event of “cohabitation” by the recipient spouse with another individual. However, the Maryland Court of Appeals has determined that a “cohabitation clause” in a marital settlement agreement implies more than merely a common residence or a sexual relationship. In determining whether an arrangement constitutes “cohabitation,” the specific facts of each case must be reviewed and certain factors must be considered including establishment of a common residence, long-term intimate relationship or romantic involvement, shared assets or common bank accounts, joint contribution to household expenses, and recognition of the relationship by the community. Importantly, the parties may alter the definition of “cohabitation” in their agreement, but if the parties use the term “cohabitation” or an analogous term, the court will interpret its meaning according to the above definition. Therefore, the parties to an agreement must be very precise and careful in drafting this type of “cohabitation clause.”
- Increase after child support ends
Let’s say Bob and Cindy get divorced after 25 years of marriage, and Bob has been ordered to pay alimony for 10 years and child support for just three years, since the former couple’s youngest child is currently 15 years old. Once the child turns 18, Cindy notices a significant drop in her household income, which makes it difficult for her to live comfortably while also balancing the rising cost of college for her adult children. To better manage these financial responsibilities while also ensuring adequate financial support for herself, Cindy should file for an increase in spousal support.
- Retroactive modification
The Courts have the power to modify alimony retroactively to the date of filing the petition for modification.
In certain circumstances the court also has discretion to modify alimony retroactively to a date prior to the filing of a request for modification.
Finally, under some circumstances, the court has the power to allow recoupment or credit for the overpayment of alimony. Essentially, the court has discretion to apply overpayments of alimony to reduce subsequent alimony payments.
Ideally, if the former spouses are able to reach an agreement on an appropriate amount of modified spousal support, they can create their own formal write-up and pass it onto a judge to authorize it into a new court order. However, if neither party can agree on an appropriate amount, the partner requesting the change must file a motion with the court for spousal support modification.
For professional legal advice regarding spousal support modification, don’t hesitate to contact the DiPietro Family Law Group at (888) 530-4374 to protect your rights.