Faithful readers of our blog will know that Maryland law has different types of alimony awards. The various types of alimony in Maryland are responsive to different sets of circumstances. Rehabilitative alimony, for instance, is designed to provide temporary assistance while the recipient takes steps to become financially self-sufficient. This type of alimony is meant to last only for a fixed period of time, after which point the award drops off, and the payee becomes self-sustaining. By contrast, “indefinite alimony” remains in place without a fixed endpoint and can last for the natural course of the payee or payor’s life.
Indefinite alimony can be awarded on different bases. One basis is when there is an unconscionable disparity between the incomes of the spouses. Let’s take a closer look at this basis by examining the recent case of Goldman v. Stabbe (2017).
Facts of the Case
The couple of this case, married in 1989 and filed for divorce in 2016. Initially, the court determined that the wife should receive a regular alimony award in the amount of $5,000 per month for 9 years. The wife sought to overturn this ruling, however, as she argued that indefinite alimony was appropriate in this case. The court reviewed the wife’s appeal and ultimately ruled in her favor. The wife’s argument rested on the scale of the difference between the husband’s income and her income: when the divorce was filed, the husband earned approximately $474,000 per year, while the wife earned $75,000 per year.
Indefinite alimony may be awarded when there is an “unconscionable disparity” between the incomes of the divorcing parties. The wife contended that this situation fits under this special category.
Key Takeaway: The Meaning of “Unconscionable Disparity”
As mentioned, there is more than one basis on which indefinite alimony can be assigned. Perhaps the most well-known basis is when a former spouse is unable to become self-supporting for one reason or another. Suppose, for instance, that a former spouse is unable to work because of a severe illness, such as cancer. In that scenario, indefinite alimony may be necessary because the spouse is simply not capable of holding employment. Another basis is when there is too great of a disparity between the incomes of the spouses.
If the disparity is too large, then the idea is that the lesser-earning spouse will be unable to continue with a reasonably similar lifestyle after the divorce, and this is true regardless of whether the lesser-earning spouse obtains alternative employment. Importantly, there is no bright line rule in Maryland law that is used to demarcate between what is “unconscionable” and what isn’t, but unconscionability has been found when the disparity is 43 percent. In this case, the disparity was much greater, closer to 15 percent (i.e., $75,000 is roughly 15 percent of $474,000). Given these numbers, the court concluded that indefinite alimony was the proper determination, and consequently, a new award was imposed.