Maureen Renehan discusses how alimony (aka “spousal support”) and child support work in Maryland. Whether you expect to pay or hope to receive support, this video is for you: knowing your rights and obligations can help you to work efficiently with your lawyer and make better decisions throughout the divorce process.
Video Transcript on How Alimony & Child Support Work in Maryland with Maureen Renehan
I’m Diana Shepherd, the Editorial Director of Family Lawyer Magazine and Divorce Magazine. My guest today is Maureen Renehan, a family law attorney and partner at Brodsky Renehan Pearlstein and Bouquet. She’s here to discuss how alimony and child support work in Maryland. Whether you expect to pay or hope to receive support, this video and podcast are for you. Knowing your rights and obligations can help you work efficiently with your lawyer and make better decisions throughout the divorce process. Welcome, Maureen!
First, let’s get some definitions out of the way. Is there a difference between spousal support, alimony, and maintenance in Maryland?
Maureen Renehan: The terms “alimony” and “spousal support” are used interchangeably in Maryland. They both mean the financial support paid from one spouse to another during the party’s separation or following their divorce. “Pendente lite alimony” is a little bit different; “pendente lite” means “during litigation” in Latin, and so that term refers to support that is ordered to be paid from one party to another during the course of the pending litigation.
What are the factors the court must consider when awarding spousal support?
There are a total of 12 factors that the court needs to take into consideration in awarding alimony, and those factors are codified in the Maryland family laws. Some of the factors are what you would expect, like a spouse’s ability to pay alimony and maintain his or her expenses, or each party’s financial needs. Then there are some less obvious factors, such as how long the parties were married, what led to their separation, their respective ages and their health, and the different non-monetary contributions that each party made to the marriage.
Does an alimony award guarantee that the recipient’s lifestyle is going to remain the same as it was before the divorce?
It does not. It’s more expensive to run two households than it is to run one. Following a divorce, it might be that neither party is able to maintain the same standard of living as when they were in the same household.
When does spousal support end? Is it generally temporary, or can it be permanent under certain circumstances?
That depends. Alimony is not intended to be a lifetime pension to support someone: it’s intended to get somebody back on their feet following divorce. For those reasons, we see more temporary alimony arrangements than we do permanent arrangements. However, the court does have the ability to award permanent alimony. In those cases, we see that when a party has become as close to self-supporting as they can be, their standard of living is still unconscionably disparate from the other party’s standard of living.
If one spouse foregoes alimony for a larger share of the marital property, and then discovers after the divorce that they can’t cover their living expenses, can they both go back to court after the divorce is final and ask for alimony?
I think you’re essentially asking, “Is alimony modifiable?” If a case goes to trial and alimony is awarded, then yes, it’s modifiable. Also, if there is a material change in circumstances, alimony can later be modified. However, if the parties enter into an agreement and they specifically state in their agreement that the alimony terms are not to be modified by any court of law, then neither party can return to court later and ask to modify alimony.
Let’s move from spousal support to child support. How does child support work in Maryland?
Child support consists of payments made from one spouse to the other to support and cover the children’s basic needs. Child support in Maryland is calculated on a formula basis, and the formula is called the “Maryland Child Support Guidelines.” The Maryland Child Support Guidelines are mandatory in all cases where the parties’ combined monthly income is under $30,000 per month. In cases where the parties combined income is over $30,000 per month, then the child support amounts are discretionary on the part of the court.
How is each spouse’s income determined for the purposes of awarding child support?
The court looks at the party’s actual income, which includes pretty much everything you can think of: their salary, bonuses, wages, commissions, interest income, dividend income, trust income, and pension income.
What expenses is child support meant to cover?
Child support is intended to cover the children’s basic needs, including housing, food, clothing, and medical care among other things.
What about extra expenses like private school, tutoring, or youth hockey, or medical expenses that are not covered by insurance?
Child support can certainly be used by the recipient parent to cover those sorts of expenses. The child support guidelines do take into consideration which party is paying the children’s health insurance, their extraordinary medical expenses, and their childcare expenses.
Is there any connection between child custody and child support in Maryland? For example, if one parent has the children most of the time, do they always receive child support?
The parent who has primary custody of the children will probably be the parent receiving receiving child support. That being said, this is not always the case. In very rare cases when the primary custodian is also the primary wage earner, you might have a situation where child support is paid to the primary wage earner. The child support guidelines are run on a shared custody arrangement when one of the parties has more than 128 overnights per year, which equates to roughly five out of 14 overnights in a two-week period. Now, if a party has less than 128 overnights per year, then it’s going to be run on sole custody guidelines.
When does child support end in Maryland?
It ends when the children turn 18 and graduate from high school, whichever comes later.
Does it ever continue until the child has finished college?
It does not. Maryland courts consider children to be adults upon turning 18 and graduating from college.
If neither parent has invested in a 529-qualified tuition plan for their child, then who pays those college expenses? Can you specify this in a divorce agreement or a parenting plan?
Yes, it can definitely be included in a parenting plan or a divorce agreement. The courts do not have the ability to order the parties to contribute to the kids’ college expenses, but if the parties reach an agreement about that, then it can absolutely be included in an agreement.