The marital contract that spouses enter into at the time of the marriage includes many provisions that I often find are a surprise to some people.   One area where marriage makes a big difference is how property passes at death. 

If you are married at the time of your death your spouse has important rights to your estate, whether or not you made a Will.  And the law does not consider you unmarried just because you are separated or there is a divorce case pending.  Only the final judgment of divorce changes your status for decedent estate purposes.  A limited divorce does not terminate spousal estate rights although Virginia, but not Maryland and the District of Columbia, bars the estate claims of surviving spouses who abandoned the decedent. See Va. Code Sec. 64.1-16.3.

Various alimony guidelines have been developed around the country.  The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) has developed a guideline that uses incomes and length of marriage to calculate the starting point for determining alimony.  The Kaufman guidelines, developed by a Michigan divorce attorney and initially published locally by the Montgomery County Commission for Women, use income, length of marriage, education, income potential and child custody to generate a  recommended amount and duration of alimony.  Last year, the Maryland Court of Appeals approved a trial judge’s reference to the AAML alimony guidelines for informational purposes in Boemio v Boemio, 414 Md. 118, 994 A.2d 911 (2010) .

In Virginia, the Fairfax County Circuit Court has by rule adopted guidelines for pendente lite alimony determinations.  It is commonly understood that those guidelines have some influence on final alimony settlements and determinations.

There may someday be statutory alimony guidelines in each state the way there are now statutory child support guidelines but it is not likely to be anytime soon.  The driving force behind the universal adoption of statutory child support guidelines was the federal interest in making child support more predictable and more collectible across state lines.   It does not appear there is any similar overriding federal concern with alimony.  So divorcing spouses and divorce lawyers will continue to settle alimony cases based on all the circumstances with non-statutory guidelines playing an increasingly important role in negotiations.  Those cases that do not settle will be tried before judges who may or may not consider the various guidelines in deciding the cases.

What if one divorcing spouse works for a private company and has a pension and will be eligible for social security and the other is a government employee? The Court will divide the marital portion of the private pension and the government pension but cannot divide the social security.  Should the Court take account of that difference in expected government benefits in dividing the pension?  Not in Maryland.  See Pleasant v Pleasant, 97 Md. App. 711, 632 A.2d 202 (1993).  In that case the Maryland Court of Special Appeals held federal law precluded treating social security benefits as marital property and affirmed the trial court’s holding that the marital portion of husband’s pension, funded by payroll deduction during the marriage, would be equally divided when received and the wife’s social security benefit, funded by payroll deduction during the marriage, would not be divided.  The court made no other adjustment to the equitable distribution of marital property.  Is that unfair? Of course.  The law of Virginia is the same on this point.  See e.g.    Esposito v. Esposito, 2002 Va. Cir. LEXIS 234 (Fairfax County)

Here is a comparison applying the child support guideline of each local jurisdiction to a typical case:  two children, sole custody, $0 health insurance and $0 child care costs and combined monthly income of $10,000, non-custodial parent’s income is $7,500 and custodial parent’s income is $2,500:

District 

total support                $25,174/12 = $2,098              

custodial % of income                            .75

recommended support order               $1,573

Maryland

total support                                        $1,811

custodial % of income                            .75

recommended support order               $1,358

Virginia

total support –                                      $1,577

custodial % of income                            .75                  

recommended support order               $1,183

Again, applying the child support guidelines to a case with the same facts except combined monthly income of $15,000, non-custodial parent’s income is $11,250 and custodial parent’s income is $3,750

District of Columbia:             

total support                $35,152/12 = $2,929

custodial % of income                            .75

recommended support order               $2,197

Maryland:                                           

total support                                        $2,847

custodial % of income                            .75

recommended support order               $2,135

Virginia

total support –1,597+.051 x $5,000 = $1,832   1

custodial % of income                            .75

recommended support order               $1,374

            As you can see, at higher incomes, child support is much lower in Virginia than in Maryland or the District.

1/  Total support for two children increases $5.10 for each $100 dollars of combined income between $10,000 and $20,000.