Child Support & Alimony

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Russell & Heffner LLC is a Frederick County law firm, based in downtown Frederick since 1988, with over 60 years of combined legal experience. The attorneys at Russell & Heffner LLC have the knowledge, skills and resources to provide our clients with comprehensive legal services and professional representation.

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We'll provide advice tailored to your particular case and with a zealous advocate who is on your side. 

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Learn More About Child Support and Alimony

While alimony and child support are similar in some sense in other respects, they could not be more different. They also need to be differentiated from emergency family maintenance, contribution on family use property and other obligations, which one party may have to the other, either by agreement or court order. 

While you can’t go to jail for not paying most bills, it's possible to be sent to jail for contempt for not paying alimony and / or child support. 

Alimony and child support also have special standing under bankruptcy law, which normally exempts them from discharge, as well as special income tax provisions, which need to be considered.
If you have a case in which either alimony and / or child support are possible issues, having an experienced family law attorney is essential, not just to know the law, but to know how the law applies to the facts of your case and how to present the pertinent facts to the court.

An experienced family law lawyer can help evaluate your case to determine not only if you're entitled to receive alimony or child support (or if you are potentially liable to have to pay it), but also to help determine the amount and duration of the payments.

A lawyer experienced with alimony and child support cases will act as an advocate for you in settlement negotiations, in mediation and most importantly, in a courtroom setting to try and obtain the best result possible. 

Knowledge of the law, familiarity with the divorce process, advice on how to structure your claim or defense, knowledge of the tendencies of particular judges and experience in drafting agreements and orders to avoid pitfalls are just a few of the skills that an experienced family law attorney brings to your case. 

Even after alimony and child support have been determined, your lawyer can act on your behalf to try and modify or enforce child support and alimony awards.
The information below is to help you understand some of the law applicable to alimony, child support, emergency family maintenance, contribution on family use property, but it's no substitute for the assistance of an experienced attorney familiar with divorce, separation, custody, support and related issues. 

The laws in this area are not just contained in statutes or rules, but in literally hundreds of cases dealing with these issues. Additionally, in order to present evidence to the court, there are still more statutes, rules and hundreds of other cases.

Child Support

Child support in Maryland is calculated pursuant to the Maryland Child Support Guidelines if the combined incomes of the parties total less than $180,000.00 per year, unless the court determines that it's in the best interests of the child to deviate from the Child Support Guidelines. 

Even in cases where the parties agree to set child support higher or lower than the Guidelines, the parties must convince the court that the deviation is in the best interests of the child, or the court may reject the child support agreed to by the parties. 

The calculation of child support under the Guidelines is based primarily on the gross incomes of the parties, the number of children for who support is paid and the amount of time each parent has the child. In addition, certain expenses, most notably the cost of health insurance and day care, are divided between the parties proportionately based on their respective incomes. 

If the parties share physical custody (defined as an arrangement where each party has at least 35% of the overnights), then support is calculated based on a separate calculation, which typically results in a lower, sometimes significantly lower, child support. 

Child support is modifiable based on a material change in circumstances during the time it is being paid, and child support typically ends when the child becomes emancipated or dies, though if the child is still in high school at age 18, it continues until the child is out of high school or turns 19, whichever occurs first. 

In certain cases child support can continue even for an adult child if that child is disabled. Child support is not deductible on taxes (though by court order or agreement of the parties, the dependency deduction for the child may be shifted to the spouse paying support even if they are not otherwise entitled to claim the child).
Under the Maryland Child Support Guidelines for the parents of one child, where the parents' each earn forty thousand dollars ($40,000.00), support can be one thousand and forty dollars ($1,040.00) per month (over the course of 10 years that is over one hundred and twenty-four thousand dollars ($124,000.00), while on the other hand, support could be zero ($0.00). 

What is the difference, and what can you do to effect the outcome? An experienced family law lawyer not only knows the law, but can also help advocate for you to make sure that child support is set in a fashion that works best for you. An attorney is particularly important in cases where it may be difficult to establish the other party's income.


Alimony, sometimes called "spousal support," is a payment made for the support of your spouse or former spouse, and usually arises in a divorce proceeding. 

Alimony is not based on guidelines in Maryland, but is based on the facts of an individual case and the discretion of the judge hearing the case. The right to claim alimony is usually lost if not made at the time of divorce. 

Subject to the agreement of the parties, and if properly structured, alimony is tax deductible by the party paying alimony, and included as income to the recipient. Alimony typically ends upon the death of either party, or upon the re-marriage of the recipient spouse, though this too is not always the case.

Alimony is also used in determining the amount of child support due from one spouse to the other.
Perhaps, nowhere is an experienced divorce attorney needed more than in cases involving alimony claims. Advocacy, proper presentation of the facts and familiarity with the court are all essential.

Court-Ordered Alimony

If the case comes to trial and the court awards alimony, it comes in three basic forms: pendente lite alimony, rehabilitative alimony or indefinite alimony. 

It is perhaps one of the most difficult of all issues in a divorce and the exact same case could result in different results depending on how the case is presented or the judge who hears the case. 

It is very important, however, to note that by means of a properly drafted agreement, the parties can establish a set amount of alimony or waive alimony, and the court cannot then award alimony, modify the alimony or terminate the alimony except as agreed to by the parties.

Pendente Lite Alimony

Pendente lite means pending the outcome of litigation, and pendente lite alimony is therefore temporary in nature and ends when the case ends. While temporary, it is, however, sometimes the most important relief the court can offer, intended to maintain the status quo until the case is over. It is based primarily on the need and ability to pay.

Rehabilitative Alimony

As the term would imply, the intent of rehabilitative alimony is to help one party to get back on their feet and to obtain the education, training and experience needed to be self-supporting. 

It is typically paid for a term of years and is modifiable during the term during which the alimony is paid. The determination of whether to grant rehabilitative alimony is based on numerous statutory considerations, including:
  • The ability of the party seeking alimony to be wholly or partly self-supporting
  • The time necessary for the party seeking alimony to gain sufficient education or training to enable that party to find suitable employment
  • The standard of living that the parties established during their marriage
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The contributions, monetary and non-monetary, of each of the party to the well-being of the family
  • The circumstances that contributed to the breakup of the marriage
  • The age of each party
  • The physical and mental condition of each party
  • The ability of the party from who alimony is sought to meet that party's needs while meeting the needs of the party seeking alimony
  • Any agreement between the parties
  • The financial needs and financial resources of each party
  • All income and assets, including all property that does not produce income
  • Any monetary award concerning property and award of possession and use of the family property
  • The nature and amount of the financial obligations of each party
  • The right of each party to receive retirement benefits
One common misconception is that the party at fault for the breakup of the marriage cannot receive alimony. That is not the case. Far more important in most cases is the economic circumstances of the parties.

Indefinite Alimony

Sometimes referred to as "permanent alimony," it too will normally end on the death of either party or the remarriage of the recipient; however, absent death or remarriage, it continues until the court modifies or terminates it. 

Indefinite alimony will be awarded by the court only if it finds that due to age, illness, infirmity or disability, the party seeking alimony cannot reasonably be expected to make substantial progress toward becoming self-supporting, or if the court finds that even after making as much progress toward becoming self-supporting, the standards of living of the parties will be unconscionably disparate.

Contractual Alimony

Unlike court-ordered alimony, in a properly drafted agreement, the parties can agree to waive alimony or set alimony in a specific amount, either modifiable or non-modifiable, and / or subject to specific conditions. 

The parties can also control whether the alimony will be taxable or non-taxable. Typically done as part of a Property Settlement Agreement, this is one of the most important areas both in terms of drafting the agreement and in understanding the consequences of the decisions made. It is an area where you need an experienced divorce attorney, and where a mistake can cost you dearly.

Non-Modifiable Alimony

While the parties may agree to have alimony modifiable by the court, often by agreement, they will have alimony which is either not subject to judicial modification, or is only modifiable upon certain conditions. 

By agreement, the parties may agree that alimony is payable for a set number of years in a specific amount and it cannot go up or down regardless that the paying spouse loses their employment or becomes disabled, or the recipient spouse hits the lottery. 

The parties can agree to cohabitation clauses that terminates the alimony if one party lives with someone else, or agree that alimony does not terminate even if the recipient spouse remarries. The parties can agree to almost anything, but most importantly can agree that the court cannot change what they have agreed to.

Payment of Family Expenses

By agreement, the parties can decide who is going to pay what expenses and or debts; however, they cannot by agreement between the parties, bind the creditor to who the payments are due, which requires careful consideration in the drafting of any agreement.
The court may also, in some circumstances, award one party the use and possession of the Family Home and Family Use Personal Property, may also require one party or the other to pay certain expenses related to these properties, typically the mortgage and car payment.

This typically occurs either pendente lite or at the time of divorce, is for a limited duration and may be subject to other conditions. Whether the payments will be tax deductible or not depends on many circumstances, including the nature of the underlying liability.

Emergency Family Maintenance

Most commonly awarded in a domestic violence proceeding, typically this is an undifferentiated payment of spousal support, child support, family expenses and perhaps other amounts depending on the case. 

If set in a domestic violence proceeding, these payments will typically continue for the duration of the order, until modified by the court that issued the order or until another court establishes a different award, typically a pendente lite order in a custody or divorce proceeding.
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