Our CFL Credential has taught you the ins and outs of settling alimony payments. Like in the recent Maryland appeals court case of Brunk v. Brunk, it’s best to include clear and solid evidence to support alimony requests. In the case, the ex-wife sought rehabilitative alimony while she looked for a new job and addressed health issues that affected her ability to work.
Circuit Court Proceedings
Matthew and Jennifer Brunk were married in 1988 and granted an absolute divorce in 2015. By 2016, they still disagreed on the division of their financial assets.
That year, the circuit court entered several financial judgments against Matthew and denied his motion to alter or amend the rehabilitative alimony award made to Jennifer. Matthew appealed.
In February 2017, a panel of the appeals court concluded that the circuit court had abused its discretion because neither the record nor the circuit court’s own findings supported the alimony award or the monetary judgments provided for in the 2016 order. The appeals court vacated the June 2016 order and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
After the court mandate, Jennifer’s attorney submitted to the circuit court “Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law,” which presented almost identical awards for nearly the same reasons. In July 2017, the circuit court entered judgments in her favor.
The prior orders granted Jennifer rehabilitative alimony of $2,500 monthly for two years. Though the July 2017 order addressed the factors listed according to the law, rather than imputing a potential income to Jennifer, the circuit court instead found that she isn’t “voluntarily impoverished but could eventually be partially self-supporting and earn $30,000 per year.”
Again, the circuit court found that it would take Jennifer “one to two years following the parties’ divorce to find suitable employment” and that “[s]uch time would be necessary for [Jennifer] to address
her health issues affecting her … ability to work, and to locate, prepare for with education and/or training, and obtain suitable employment in a new field for which she might not readily qualify.” The court noted that it took Matthew, who is nearly the same age as Jennifer, two years to find a job in his field. He didn’t suffer from Jennifer’s health issues of recurring bladder infections and scoliosis that affected her ability to sit and work.
Matthew again appealed. Six months later, in January 2018, while his appeal was pending, the circuit court issued another order. After Jennifer’s attorney pointed out that there was already a signed order after remand, the circuit court vacated the January 2018 order, leaving the July 2017 one intact. Matthew’s appeal proceeded. He argued that the July 2017 order didn’t comply with this appeals court mandate.
The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland Ruling
The appellate court agreed with Matthew and again vacated the trial court’s judgment.
Regarding rehabilitative alimony, the appeals court upheld its decision that the circuit court abused its discretion – the findings and the record continued not to support or explain the amount and duration of Jennifer’s alimony award.
The appeals court failed to see any information about the type of employment Jennifer sought and how her ailments limited her ability to work. It also didn’t see how the length of time Matthew needed to find suitable employment related to Jennifer’s situation.
“We note that on the next remand, if the court again chooses to award Jennifer alimony, it should be based on consideration of the factors in FL § 11-106(b), and that ‘[w]hile a court is not required to use a formal checklist when making its alimony determination, a sound decision in this case will, at the very least, include an explanation for the amount and duration of any alimony award.’”
The court decided that the explanation shouldn’t rely on vague generalizations, but should “draw a solid line between the facts and the remedy, explaining fully how the former justifies the latter.”
It went on to note that the January 2018 order, which the trial court rescinded, would have complied with their mandate and may have provided “a useful starting point.”
Learn more about how to handle these and other difficult financial situations in our CFL course. Find out why it’s not who you know, but what you know that will boost your career success in our free information packet today.
Mdcourts.gov. (2019). [online] Available at: https://mdcourts.gov/sites/default/files/unreported-opinions/0972s17_0.pdf [Accessed 17 Oct. 2019].