In a previous posting to this site, I have explained the desirability of a divorcing couple making a good faith effort to settle their disputes through negotiations leading to a separation agreement. This is often a better alternative than incurring the expense of litigation. In high income areas such as Howard County, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County and Carroll County, alimony is frequently an issue. However, unlike child support, there have been no guidelines for Maryland Divorce Lawyers and their clients trying to negotiate alimony. This may begin to change. Boemio vs. Boemio, a recent opinion issued by the Maryland Court of Appeals, for the first time, allows judges to utilize alimony guidelines that are consistent with the Maryland alimony statute.
Section 11-106 of the Family Law Article guides and controls the court in crafting the amount and duration of an alimony award. Section 11-106(c) provides guidance on whether indefinite alimony should be awarded. However, these provisions are so general that trial judges are left with a great deal of discretion. As a result, Maryland Divorce Lawyers and their clients have lacked useful tools for predicting what a court might do in deciding an alimony claim.
In Boemio vs. Boemio, the court ruled that it was proper for the trial judge to have consulted guidelines promulgated by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers ("AAML"). It said that a trial judge may choose to consult any guidelines promulgated by reliable and neutral source that do not conflict with or undermine the provisions of the statute. As judges take the opportunity to refer to alimony guidelines in their decisions, in the course of time, this should give divorcing parties a frame of reference in negotiations.
A final word of caution is in order. In the Boemia case, the trial judge referred to the AAML guidelines but did not slavishly follow them. In fact his award of $3,000 was substantially less than the $3,816 indicated by the guidelines.