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By Nelson A. Garcia, Esquire
Andalman & Flynn, P.C.

If you have questions or need compassionate legal guidance regarding a divorce matter, please contact me, Nelson Garcia.

 

When going through a divorce, there are many factors that figure into the ultimate outcome. In Maryland, the length of your marriage is one of several important factors that a court must consider in two main aspects of divorce: (1) alimony/spousal support and (2) division of marital property.  Length of marriage has to do with how established individuals are in their particular standard of living; the longer the marriage, the more established they are. Divorce laws regarding the length of marriage strive to ensure that both parties are protected against drastic financial change.  In other words, what the length of a marriage tells a judge, more than anything else, is how closely tied together spouses are and how difficult the split will be for the non-earning spouse or the lesser-earning spouse.

  1. Alimony/Spousal Support:

Maryland family article, section 11-106, sets out the factors that a court must consider in determining the amount and duration of alimony, with “the duration of the marriage” listed as the factor No. 4. The factors are as follows:

(1)    the ability of the party seeking alimony to be wholly or partly self-supporting;

(2)    the time necessary for the party seeking alimony to gain sufficient education or training to enable that party to find suitable employment;

(3)    the standard of living that the parties established during their marriage;

(4)    the duration of the marriage;

(5)    the contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family;

(6)    the circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties;

(7)    the age of each party;

(8)    the physical and mental condition of each party;

(9)    the ability of the party from whom alimony is sought to meet that party’s needs while meeting the needs of the party seeking alimony;

(10)  any agreement between the parties;

(11)  the financial needs and financial resources of each party, including:

  • all income and assets, including property that does not produce income;
  • any award made under §8-205 (monetary award concerning property) and 8-208 (award of possession and use of the family property);
  • the nature and amount of the financial obligations of each party; and
  • the right of each party to receive retirement benefits; and

(12)    whether the award would cause a spouse who is a resident of a related institution as defined in § 19-301 of the health – general article and from whom alimony is sought to become eligible for medical assistance earlier than would otherwise occur.

Generally speaking, the longer the marriage, the longer the duration of support awarded. In long-term marriages (typically over 20 years but, depending on the age of parties, could be less), the court may even award lifetime support (“indefinite” or “permanent” alimony in Maryland) to the historically lower or non-earning spouse. Disability and poor health of the requesting spouse can also be determinative as to awarding Indefinite Alimony.

Alimony is also awarded in mid-range marriages (typically, approximately five-14 years), but the award will be limited in duration. In a short-term marriage (typically 0-five  years), support is much less likely to be awarded.

In Maryland, “rehabilitative alimony” (especially in mid-range marriages) is greatly favored in order assist the dependent spouse in becoming self-supporting or to “get back on her/his feet,” such as by going to school, finding a full-time job or otherwise improving earning potential to the point where alimony is no longer needed. Where appropriate, the court may order temporary spousal support, called “pendente lite alimony,” even in a short-term marriage, to assist the lesser-earning spouse during the divorce proceedings.  However, in Maryland, the standard applied for the determination of (temporary) pendente lite alimony (pending the litigation) is different from that/the statutory factors (above) applied for determining a final order of alimony. For an award of pendente lite alimony, the court is only to consider the recipient’s need (for financial support) and the obligor’s ability to pay.

One should particularly keep in mind that the outcome of a case is highly dependent on the facts of an individual case and the specific financial circumstances of the parties. In each one of the above circumstances, whether temporary/pendente lite, rehabilitative or indefinite, the financial circumstances (including the “need” of the dependent spouse and the financially dominant spouse’s “ability to pay”) are presented and proven to the ourt primarily by a long-form financial statement. This is a statement in which each party is required by law to complete regarding their expenses, incomes, assets, and debts.

  1. Marital Property Division:

The length of a marriage can also affect how much property is awarded to each spouse upon divorce. Maryland family article, section 8-205, sets out the factors that a court must consider in determining this and particularly the terms of (1) the transfer of the interest in property or (2) to the extent that such a transfer of interest in property is not feasible to accomplish the desired result, the transfer of a monetary amount, called a “monetary award,” to the extent there are liquid marital assets to accomplish such, with “the duration of the marriage” listed as the factor No. 5. These factors are as follows:

(1) the contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family;

(2) the value of all property interests of each party;

(3) the economic circumstances of each party at the time the award is to be made;

(4) the circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties;

(5) the duration of the marriage;

(6) the age of each party;

(7) the physical and mental condition of each party;

(8) how and when specific marital property or interest in property described in subsection (a)(2) of this section, was acquired, including the effort expended by each party in accumulating the marital property or the interest in property described in subsection (a)(2) of this section, or both;

(9) the contribution by either party of property described in § 8-201(e)(3) of this subtitle to the acquisition of real property held by the parties as tenants by the entirety;

(10) any award of alimony and any award or other provision that the court has made with respect to family use personal property or the family home; and

(11) any other factor that the court considers necessary or appropriate to consider in order to arrive at a fair and equitable monetary award or transfer of an interest in property described in subsection (a)(2) of this section, or both.

(c)  Award reduced to judgment – The court may reduce to judgment any monetary award made under this section, to the extent that any part of the award is due and owing.

Although courts in Maryland are given a great deal of discretion in marital awards/property distribution, generally speaking, they try to end up with as close to a 50/50 split of assets as possible. However, the longer the marriage, the more likely it is that the court  may go beyond a simple 50/50 division of assets and instead award a greater portion of marital property to one of the spouses in order to place him or her in a similar financial position as the higher earning spouse, and to ensure that both spouses enjoy relatively comparable standards of living post-divorce.

In a higher mid to long-term marriage, it is common for one spouse to have relied on the other spouse’s income and earning abilities to support a certain standard of living that would not be sustainable as a single person. In such cases, the court will often award the lower-earning spouse a higher percentage of the marital property to better equalize the standards of living of the parties post-divorce. Disproportionate awards of property are also common when there is historical income disparity between the spouses. In a dissolution of a short-term marriage, the court is less likely to make a disproportionate award of jointly owned property and more likely to order an equal distribution of jointly owned assets. This is particularly true in cases where both parties were employed throughout the marriage.

A longer-term marriage can present more complex issues for valuation and division of property. Couples who have been married for a lengthy period of time generally tend to have more property and more diverse property holdings or interests. This can include real estate investments, closely held businesses or professional practices, employee stock options and a variety of retirement and investment accounts.

The outcome of any divorce is highly dependent on the facts of the individual case and the specific financial circumstances of the parties. An experienced family law attorney can provide you with the sound advice you need to ensure that your case has a successful, equitable result.

If you have questions or need compassionate legal guidance regarding a divorce matter, please contact me, Nelson Garcia.

About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.: Andalman & Flynn, P.C. serves clients throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia, offering compassionate, quality service and results-driven representation across a broad range of legal areas. With a concentration on disability benefits law and family law, the firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone, and they are there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit http://www.andalmanflynn.com, or call 301.563.6685.

By Nelson A. Garcia, Esquire

Andalman & Flynn, P.C.