When Should a Judge Award Indefinite Alimony?

The next section of the Maryland Code discusses when a judge should award indefinite alimony:

(c)   The court may award alimony for an indefinite period, if the court finds that:

(1)   due to age, illness, infirmity, or disability, the party seeking alimony cannot reasonably be expected to make substantial progress toward becoming self-supporting; or

(2)   even after the party seeking alimony will have made as much progress toward becoming self-supporting as can reasonably be expected, the respective standards of living of the parties will be unconscionably disparate. 

Legal Fees and Lawsuit Costs

Finally, awarding legal fees and other costs associated with the divorce is again up to the discretion of the judge.  Normally, in American courts attorneys’ fees are not awarded to the prevailing party (unless there is a statute or contract that specifically calls for legal fees to be awarded to the winning party).  In divorce cases, the court divides the marital assets and usually requires each party to pay his or her own legal fees.  However, the court may award legal fees when one party has a substantial need.  Typically, when there is not enough property for each party to pay his or her own legal fees and the parties have greatly different incomes, the judge may order one party to contribute to the legal fees or suit costs incurred by the other party. 

Sometimes, a court will award legal fees at the pendent lite hearing but usually this issue is reserved for the final divorce hearing. This means that each party must come up with her or her own legal fees initially and maintain the lawsuit until the final divorce before getting an award of attorney’s fees.  Additionally, most attorneys will require that they be paid their legal fees in advance and during the litigation and will not wait until the final divorce hearing to see whether the judge awards the client his or legal fees.

Another situation where legal fees are sometimes awarded is when there is no substantial justification for a claim or a defense, or when a party has been sanctioned by the court for being unreasonable.  For example, if a person refuses to respond to discovery and the other party is forced to file a motion for sanctions to get information, the judge may award the other party legal fees incurred in obtaining this information. 

Attorneys’ fees and other costs of litigation are frequently awarded when a party does not follow a court order already in place. For example, in a petition for contempt for failing to pay alimony or child support one of the remedies available are the legal fees incurred by the party seeking to enforce the court’s order.  Also, most Marital Separation Agreements have specific language stating that the prevailing party will be entitled to his or her legal fees if there is a lawsuit over compliance with the terms of the agreement.

In most cases, each party will be required to pay his or her own legal fees in a divorce.  However, if a party is required to sue for contempt (failing to follow a court order or separation agreement) then he or she may recover attorneys’ fees.  Also, when there is a substantial disparity in the parties’ financial situations the court may award one party to pay some or all of the other party’s legal fees.  Although a party in a divorce case can request legal fees at the pendente lite hearing, the court usually reserves this claim until the final divorce hearing.  This forces each party to bear his or her own legal fees and court costs until the end of the case.