In 2008, Britney Spears was ordered to pay Kevin Federline, a “pizza delivery boy and dancer”, $40,000 a month. A few weeks ago, newspaper headlines announced that Katie Holmes would receive $400,000 a year from Tom Cruise. These high profile divorces can obscure expectations of alimony, but the real world works a bit differently.

Courts see the purpose of alimony as a way of assisting a dependent spouse to become self-supporting. When granted, alimony is generally limited to rehabilitative assistance that will allow a previously stay-at-home spouse to complete his or her education, obtain or update job skills, and receive supplemental income in the initial years of entering or re-entering the workforce. Only if the dependent spouse is too old or ill to work, or if there would be a very large and unfair difference between the living standards of the parties, will the court consider permanent or indefinite alimony.

There are no hard and fast rules as to how much alimony a court may award in any given case. The precise amount and duration of alimony will vary depending on the circumstances, the needs and the respective abilities of the parties. Under Maryland’s Family Law Section 11-106, the Courts are obligated to consider certain factors, which include:

How long were the parties married?
Did they make a previous agreement regarding alimony (e.g., prenuptial agreement)
What was their standard of living during the marriage?
What financial and other contributions did each party make to the family during the marriage?
How old are they, and what is their physical and mental condition?
How capable is the party seeking alimony of being wholly or partly self-supporting?
Why are they getting divorced?
How much education, time and/or training will it take for the party seeking alimony to find suitable employment?
Is the party from whom alimony is being sought able to meet their own needs as well as the needs of the party seeking alimony?
A court may also consider any other factors it wishes in its decision whether or not to grant alimony and how to arrive at a fair and equitable award. The award is meant to help the dependent spouse become financially independent and stay as close as possible to his or her current standard of living within the (former) spouse’s ability to pay — and no more. The most important thing for alimony seekers is to make the claim for alimony before your divorce is finalized, since it cannot be obtained later.

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