Al-i-mo-ny: Breaking Down the Award

One of Law’s Great Mysteries: Calculating the Alimony Award

Alimony awards can vary by judge, jurisdiction, and, certainly, by circumstance. Family law attorneys and judges of all stripes and dispositions have opinions on how best to calculate alimony. Many if not most jurisdictions require by law that judges consider a number of factors before making a final judgment on the amount of the award. Ultimately, judges are supposed to be trying to work out the most equitable, or fair, solution to the problems of divorce and one spouse providing support to the other.

In Maryland, judges must consider the following factors when determining whether or not to order an award of alimony:

(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:

(i) all income and assets, including property that does not produce income;

(ii) any award made under §§ 8-205 and 8-208 of this article;

(iii) the nature and amount of the financial obligations of each party; and

(iv) 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.*

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) offers guidance for the amount of alimony a party should receive as part of a divorce. Their guidelines provide a formula for the amount, a recommendation for the length of time alimony should last, and lists several factors that deserve consideration for a determination of what alimony should be.

The AAML guidelines may be applied as follows. This example is but one example and is merely an illustration** of how the guidelines, when applied, may work:

  1. First, the amount is calculated by taking 30% of the one party’s income minus 20% of the other party’s pay. For example, let’s say Spouse 1 makes $100,000 per year, and Spouse 2 makes $50,000 per year:

[30% of $100,000] – [20% of $50,000] =

[$30,000] – [$4,000] = $26,000/year or $2,167/month

  1. Second, the length of time that alimony should be provided is determined by multiplying the number of years the parties have been married by a certain factor. For 0-3 years, multiple by 0.3; for 3-10 years, multiply by 0.5; for 10-20 years, multiple by 0.75; and for parties married over 20 years, the guidelines recommend that alimony be permanent.

So, for example, if the parties have been married for 15 years:

15 x 0.75 = 11 years, 3 months of alimony support

  1. Finally, a number of so-called “deviation factors” can alter the amount of alimony awarded. In other words, the finding that certain factors exist can equitably adjust alimony either higher or lower. Among these factors are things like whether the party receiving alimony has a dependent child or disabled adult in his or her care, the age and health of each party, the support shown by one spouse to another in providing support during the marriage or giving up a career to support the marriage or family, and other any factors that require consideration to create an equitable result. Likewise, in Maryland, , judges must consider the 12 factors as set forth by statute when considering an award of alimony.

So, continuing our example, let’s say Spouse 2 is 49 years old, put his or her career on hold to help raise Spouse 1’s children from a previous marriage, who are now adults. The court should consider that factor and how it affected Spouse 2’s career and current earning potential. Along with Spouse 1’s relatively high earnings, the court may award, together with the findings above, an additional $1,000/month.

In this hypothetical, Spouse 2 would receive any alimony award of:

$3,167/month ($38,004/year) for 11 years, 3 months.

It should be noted that the AAML Guidelines suggest that alimony should not exceed 40% of the parties’ combined incomes; or in our example, $60,000/year. Obviously, our example concludes with Spouse 2 receiving about $38,000/year – well within the recommended guidelines.

Fred Antenberg is an attorney in Columbia, Maryland that handles family law matters in Howard County, Maryland and surrounding counties. CONTACT Fred at 410-730-4404.

*Md. Ann. Code, Family Law, § 11-106.

**Your situation may result in a higher or lower amount of alimony and the illustration is but one example that may or may not be applicable to you and your circumstances.