Indefinite Alimony Requirements Reviewed in Recent Opinion

A Court of Special Appeals decision on the issue of indefinite alimony has caught my attention. Alimony is an issue that depends on the trial judge evaluating the facts and exercising considerable discretion.

In Lee vs. Andochick, an award of indefinite alimony was reversed. Since trial judges do not often get reversed on an issue over which they have so much discretion, it is worth taking a careful look at this opinion.

The parties lived a lavish life style, enjoying extraordinary vacations, traveling on a private jet and a great deal of household help.

The best way to put the opinion in Lee vs. Andochick in perspective is to review Maryland’s alimony statute enacted almost thirty years ago. In 1980 the Maryland Legislature revolutionized the concept of alimony. The new concept was to rehabilitate the dependent spouse to become economically self supporting. If the spouse seeking alimony is unable to support her or himself and if the other party has an ability to pay, alimony may be awarded based upon twelve factors listed in the statute.

The award is usually to be considered “rehabilitative” and therefore will end after a specific period of time. In exceptional circumstances, alimony can be awarded for an indefinite period of time if (i) due to age, illness, or disability, a spouse cannot reasonably be expected to become self supporting or (ii) even after the party seeking alimony has made as much progress toward becoming self supporting as can reasonably be expected, the respective living standards of the parties will be unconscionably disparate. Like many indefinite alimony cases, Lee vs. Andochick was fought on the issue of “unconscionable disparity.”

Mr. Lee was employed by a brokerage firm and earned at the time of trial, $1.7 Million per year. Wife, a dentist earned $267,000. Therefore, husband earned over 600% of wife’s income. The parties lived a lavish life style, enjoying extraordinary vacations, traveling on a private jet and a great deal of household help and assistance.

The Appeals Court remanded the case to the trial court because it had not articulated how the parties’ standards of living would be unconsciously disparate. It focused on the heavy debt that husband had accrued, amount of child support and payments he was to make as part of the marital property award.

This opinion reminds me as a Maryland Divorce Attorney, that indefinite alimony requires a fact intensive inquiry that does not end with establishing disparate income. Furthermore, unconscionable disparity must be evaluated in the context of both the child support and marital property awards.