Adultery in Maryland: Does Cheating Affect Alimony?

Learn whether an extramarital affair can impact spousal support in Maryland.

If you’ve come to the unhappy conclusion that your marriage is going to end because it’s been destroyed by adultery, then you might be wondering how adultery fits into the divorce laws in Maryland. Will adultery matter for purposes of the divorce proceedings? More specifically, will a judge be concerned about adultery when making a decision about alimony?

This article will provide an overview of alimony in Maryland and explain the potential impact of adultery on alimony. If you have any questions after you read this article, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney for advice.

Overview of Alimony in Maryland

Alimony is the money that one spouse (the "obligor" or paying spouse) pays to the other (the "obligee" or supported spouse) during or after a divorce (or both). The purpose of alimony is to make sure that both spouses live as closely as possible to the standard of living they enjoyed while they were married and that no one is impoverished because of the divorce.

There are different kinds of alimony that Maryland courts can award:

  • Alimony pendente lite is temporary alimony that the court awards while the divorce is still pending and no final order has been issued. The purpose is to help the supported spouse make ends meet while the legal proceedings play out.
  • Indefinite alimony is awarded following the dissolution of a long-term marriage and when it appears that the supported spouse isn’t likely to become self-supporting.
  • Rehabilitative alimony is a type of temporary alimony that’s given to the supported spouse for a limited time and with the intent of providing the financial support necessary to complete the training or education necessary to become fully employed and self-supporting.

See Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Maryland to get more detailed information about how alimony is determined, calculated and awarded.

What Role Does Adultery Play in a Maryland Divorce?

In Maryland, there are seven basic grounds (meaning, legal justifications) for a divorce:

  • adultery
  • desertion (abandonment)
  • conviction of a spouse of a felony or misdemeanor crime in which the spouse is sentenced to serve at least three years in a penal institution (prison)
  • 12 month consecutive separation in which the spouses have lived separate and apart
  • insanity
  • cruelty toward a spouse or a minor child, and
  • excessively vicious conduct.

With the exception of the separation ground for divorce, which is “no-fault,” the rest of the grounds are "fault-based," meaning a “guilty spouse” committed marital misconduct (wrongdoing) against an “innocent spouse.” Adultery is one of the grounds for divorce, and it’s defined as a married person having sexual relations with someone outside of the marriage. This means that if your spouse committed adultery, you can go to court and prove that fact to a judge, who will in turn grant your divorce on the basis of adultery.

There are pros and cons to trying to prove fault-based grounds, like adultery. These grounds may have an impact on other parts of the divorce, like child custody. This is an issue that’s best discussed with a lawyer before you make any decisions.

How Does Adultery Affect Alimony Awards in Maryland?

The question then becomes, if you’re granted a divorce on the fault ground that your spouse committed adultery, does that mean you can prevent your spouse from obtaining alimony from you?

The answer is no. In Maryland, even though the divorce court may already have found that your spouse committed adultery and granted you a divorce for that reason, you won’t be able to hold that fact against your spouse when it comes to alimony. The judge may or may not choose to consider the adultery, but the judge can’t say that your spouse is barred or prohibited from seeking alimony because of adulterous behavior.

Family law judges who are deciding alimony can consider fault, such as adultery, that resulted in divorce and destroyed the marital home. However, the fault can only be considered when it affects the economic needs of the spouse who’s asking for alimony. This means that adultery is only relevant to alimony if it somehow affected the finances of the supported spouse. If, for example, the cheating spouse used the couples' life savings on a lover during the marriage, to pay for gifts, hotel rooms, or vacations, a judge would most likely find that this affected the supported spouses's finances.

Therefore, Maryland courts are required to apply the normal statutory requirements to all alimony cases, even when there’s been adultery, to determine the amount and duration of alimony to be paid (if any). To decide whether to award alimony, judges have to “consider all the factors necessary for a fair and equitable award,” including:

  • the ability of the spouse seeking alimony to be wholly or partly self-supporting
  • the time necessary for the suported spouse to gain sufficient education or training to enable that spouse to find suitable employment
  • the standard of living that the spouses established during their marriage
  • the duration of the marriage
  • the contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each spouse to the well-being of the family
  • the circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the spouses
  • the age of each spouse
  • the physical and mental condition of each spouse
  • the ability of the paying spouse to meet his or her own needs while also meeting the needs of the supported spouse
  • any agreement (for instance, a prenuptial agreement) between the spouses, and
  • the financial needs and financial resources of each spouse.

Additional Resources

For self-help purposes, you can look at the Maryland Court's Self Help Information and Brochures page and official court forms.

If you’re looking for free or reduced cost legal aid, you can browse Maryland Legal Aid's homepage or try to seek help through the District Court Self Help Center. Finally, you can read the Maryland Statutes firsthand.

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