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Alimony vs. Child Support

patrickcrawford | August 3, 2023

If you are in the process of filing for divorce in Maryland, you probably have worries when it comes to supporting yourself and your child. 

Part of making the transition easier is ensuring that both you and your child are able to still live comfortably. Your financial concerns are valid and should be handled by an experienced family law and divorce attorney

Attorney Patrick Crawford has experience helping newly divorced clients with the process of applying for alimony and child support. Below is an overview of both alimony and child support and the major differences between the two.

 

What is Alimony, and How Does it Work?

Alimony is a payment between former spouses. The spouse with a higher income will be responsible for paying the lower-earning spouse a recurring payment. Alimony payments may be made weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually.

Alimony is designed to help a former spouse out financially for a specified period of time. The goal is for the payments to help support the spouse until they can become financially independent.

It is up to a judge’s discretion in calculating alimony, but the length of the marriage plays a significant role in determining the amount. For example, the court may grant one year of alimony for every three years of marriage.

 

Court-Ordered versus Contractual Alimony

Alimony may be court-ordered or contractual. Court-ordered alimony will be made as part of the divorce decree and will follow Maryland law in determining payment amounts.

In contractual alimony, the terms agreed upon by the couple may be more expansive than court-ordered alimony. Contractual alimony may be made as part of a marital separation agreement or included in a prenuptial agreement.

In contractual alimony, a couple may agree to higher monthly payments than is indicated by state law, or even agree that one spouse will cover a bill with a fluctuating payment, such as the heating bill.

 

Types of Alimony in Maryland

Maryland recognizes three forms of alimony. The court will grant a particular type of alimony based on your situation:

 

Alimony pendente lite

This type of alimony may be awarded by the court between the time you file for divorce and when the divorce is finalized. Alimony pendente lite allows both persons to retain the same financial position that they grew accustomed to during their marriage.

This type of alimony does not guarantee that the lower-earning spouse will be awarded alimony once the marriage is terminated.

 

Rehabilitative alimony

This type of alimony is the most commonly awarded in Maryland divorces. It is usually set for a certain period of time when the spouse receiving support has a time-driven goal.

For example, if a former spouse plans on returning to school, the order for rehabilitative alimony may only be scheduled to last for two years. 

Rehabilitative alimony usually lasts between 3-10 years.

 

Indefinite alimony

Indefinite alimony, also known as permanent alimony, is the rarest form of alimony. It is awarded following a divorce.

Indefinite alimony may be awarded based on age, disability, or a disease that prevents you from working. 

It may last until either spouse dies or if the court determines that the alimony payments are no longer necessary.

What is Child Support, and How Does it Work?

Child support is the legal obligation of both parents to support their child. The financial support is intended to cover a child’s basic needs, including food, shelter, and healthcare.

The non-custodial parent (the parent who the child does not live with most of the time) is often responsible for providing the custodial parent with a monthly support check. Courts do not necessarily need to get involved in order to determine child support if both parents can agree on an amount.

Similar to alimony, a child support order may be made as part of a marital separation agreement or incorporated into the divorce decree. 

 

Differences between Alimony and Child Support

Purpose

Since alimony is intended to provide the lower-earning spouse a payment in order to sustain the lifestyle he or she grew accustomed to, the payment will usually be in the form of a monthly check. 

In contrast, child support is often more than a single check. Child support will often encompass other needs of the child. If childcare is required, the non-custodial parent may be responsible for paying the daycare center directly. The same may hold true if the parent is responsible for travel expenses; the parent may have to purchase plane tickets directly from the airline. Of course, these stipulations would be detailed in the child support order.

 

Types

Unlike alimony, which has three different types, child support does not. 

However, a child support order may include various needs of the child, including medical expenses, health insurance coverage, child care, educational needs, and travel expenses.

 

Court Process and Factors the Court Will Consider

In Maryland, you must make an alimony claim as part of the divorce proceedings. You are not allowed to make a separate claim after the divorce has been finalized. 

In contrast, child support may be requested by the court as part of a child custody claim. 

In considering alimony payments, the court will consider certain factors as dictated by Maryland law:

  • The standard of living that the parties established during their marriage;
  • The length of the marriage;
  • The circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties;
  • The age of each party;
  • The physical and mental condition of each party;
  • Any agreement between the parties; and
  • The financial needs and financial resources of each party.

 

In considering child support payments, the court will look at a different set of criteria:

  • Each parent’s monthly income;
  • The number of children;
  • The cost of health insurance for the child(ren);
  • Current child support being paid for another child or other children;
  • The cost of daycare;
  • The cost of extraordinary medical expenses for the child(ren);
  • Private school tuition; and 
  • The cost of transportation;
  • Alimony being paid; and
  • Alimony being received

 

While alimony will be considered in determining a child support order, child support is not considered when determining the amount of alimony a former spouse will receive. This is because child support is intended to cover the needs of the child and should not be used for the receiving parent’s personal needs.

 

Tax Treatment

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) treats alimony and child support differently when it comes to filing your taxes.

If your divorce was finalized after December 31, 2018, you cannot claim it on your tax return, whether you are paying or receiving alimony.

Notwithstanding, if your divorce was finalized prior to December 31, 2018, you can claim alimony as long as you meet the following criteria:

  • The spouses don’t file a joint return with each other;
  • The payment is in cash (including checks or money orders);
  • The payment must be made under a divorce decree or marital separation agreement;
  • The spouses don’t live in the same household when payments are made;
  • There is no requirement to make a payment if the receiving spouse dies;
  • The payment isn’t treated as child support or a property settlement; and
  • The divorce decree or separation agreement does not categorize the payment as not being alimony.

 

Child support is much simpler: it is neither taxable nor deductible. 

Although there is no requirement to report child support payments on your taxes, parents should discuss who will claim the child as a dependent. Although the custodial parent usually claims the child as a dependent, the non-custodial parent can claim the child instead. 

Always speak with a certified public accountant (CPA) or enrolled agent (EA) before filing your tax return.

An Annapolis Family Law and Divorce Attorney Working for You

If you are facing divorce, you want to know that your own needs and your child’s needs are going to be met. Attorney Patrick Crawford will assess your situation and be honest with what alimony and/or child support you may be able to receive. 

When you meet with Patrick, you are placing your trust in a dedicated family law and divorce attorney. Contact the Law Office of Patrick Crawford today to schedule your initial consultation.  

Patrick Crawford

Patrick is an Annapolis Family Lawyer dedicated to helping you through the most complex and emotional family law matters. During his career, Patrick has successfully represented countless people in divorce, child custody, child support, domestic violence and other family law cases of diverse complexity.

Years of experience: 20+ years.
Maryland Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law.

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Patrick Crawford, who has more than 16 years of legal experience practicing family law.