McAlear v. McAlear, No. 138

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtArgued before MURPHY; DAVIDSON
Citation469 A.2d 1256,298 Md. 320
PartiesJames Harvey McALEAR v. Anna Joyce McALEAR. Sept. Term 1982.
Docket NumberNo. 138
Decision Date19 January 1984

Page 320

298 Md. 320
469 A.2d 1256
James Harvey McALEAR
v.
Anna Joyce McALEAR.
No. 138 Sept. Term 1982.
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
Jan. 19, 1984.

[469 A.2d 1257]

Page 324

Bruce A. Kaufman, Baltimore, Timothy P. Kane, Rockville, for appellant.

Thomas L. Beight, Gaithersburg, for appellee.

Argued before MURPHY, C.J., and SMITH, ELDRIDGE, COLE, DAVIDSON, RODOWSKY and COUCH, JJ.

[469 A.2d 1258] DAVIDSON, Judge.

This case presents the question whether a person can be imprisoned for failure to pay a monetary award granted pursuant to Maryland Code (1974, 1980 Repl.Vol., & 1983 Cum.Supp.), §§ 3-6A-05 and 3-6A-08 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article (monetary award). More particularly, it involves the question whether such a monetary award is a form of alimony and, therefore, not a debt within the scope of the Maryland Constitution, Art. III, § 38.

Maryland Constitution, Art. III, § 38, ratified 2 November 1982, provides:

"No person shall be imprisoned for debt, but a valid decree of a court of competent jurisdiction or agreement approved by decree of said court for the support of a spouse or dependent children, or for the support of an illegitimate child or children, or for alimony (either common law or as defined by statute), shall not constitute a debt within the meaning of this section." 1 (Emphasis added.)

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Section 3-6A-05 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article 2 provides in pertinent part:

"(a)(1) In granting an absolute divorce or annulment ... the court shall determine which property is marital property if the division of property is an issue.

* * *

"(b) The court shall determine the value of all marital property. After making the determination, the court may grant a monetary award as an adjustment of the equities and rights of the parties concerning marital property, whether or not alimony is awarded.

* * *

"(c) A monetary award made under this section may be reduced to a judgment to the extent that any part of the award is due and owing." (Emphasis added.)

Section 3-6A-08 3 provides:

"(a) An order, award, or decree entered under this subtitle may be enforced in accordance with the Maryland Rules." 4 (Emphasis added.)

Page 326

On 3 June 1981, the petitioner, James H. McAlear (husband), and the respondent, Anna J. McAlear (wife), were divorced. They had not previously reached an agreement concerning alimony or the disposition of property. The trial court, among other things, awarded the wife alimony in the [469 A.2d 1259] amount of $700.00 per month "during the joint lives of the parties, or until the [wife] sooner remarries, all subject to further order of the court." The trial court further determined that "post-marital appreciated interest" in two corporations was marital property and that the wife's interest in that marital property was $64,000.00. The trial court ordered the husband to pay that amount in eight $8,000.00 annual installments, the first of which was due on 1 June 1981.

The husband failed to pay the initial installment. On 8 December 1981, a judgment in the amount of $8,000.00 was entered against him. That judgment was never paid. Thereafter, the husband failed to pay the second installment due on 1 June 1982.

On 2 June 1982, in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, the wife filed a petition to "adjudicate the defendant in contempt of court" on the ground that he had failed to pay the previous judgment and the second installment. On 25 August 1982, the trial court determined that a monetary award granted pursuant to § 3-6A-05 "is a form of alimony and not a debt and therefore falls within the exception created by Section 38 of Article III of the Maryland Constitution...." It concluded that the husband was in contempt of court. The trial court ordered the husband incarcerated for a period of 90 days. The order did not provide for the husband's release in the event that the arrearages were paid before the expiration of the fixed term of imprisonment. The execution of sentence was stayed for 60 days to allow the husband to purge himself of contempt by payment of $8,000.00 to the wife.

On 22 September 1982, the husband filed an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. On 9 December 1982, we issued a

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writ of certiorari before consideration by that Court. We shall reverse the order of the trial court.

The husband contends that a monetary award is not a form of alimony and, therefore, is a debt within the scope of the Maryland Constitution, Art. III, § 38. He concludes that consequently a person cannot be imprisoned for nonpayment of a monetary award.

The wife contends that a monetary award is "alimony in gross," a form of alimony and, therefore, a court-ordered duty, not a debt, within the scope of the Maryland Constitution, Art. III, § 38. She concludes that a person can be imprisoned for the nonpayment of a monetary award. We do not agree.

I

Historical Background

In Maryland, the history of the evolution of alimony and property disposition incidental to a divorce demonstrates that the General Assembly and this Court have consistently distinguished between alimony and disposition of property incidental to a divorce.

A. Alimony

Divorce in Maryland is a statutory creation that was unknown to the common law. 5 In England during the 17th and 18th centuries, courts did not grant absolute divorces but the ecclesiastical courts could grant limited divorces. The ecclesiastical courts could award alimony to the wife but only incidental to a limited divorce. Thomas v. Thomas, 294 Md. 605, 609-10, 451 A.2d 1215, 1217 (1982).

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In Maryland, there being no ecclesiastical courts, the General Assembly granted divorces. [469 A.2d 1260] The doctrine that alimony could be awarded only incidental to a limited divorce was, however, not followed in Maryland. The power to grant alimony, even when a limited divorce was not sought, was deemed to be within the inherent authority of Maryland equity courts and such courts regularly exercised that authority. See Thomas, 294 Md. at 614, 451 A.2d at 1220; Wald v. Wald, 161 Md. 493, 500, 159 A. 97, 100 (1931); Outlaw v. Outlaw, 118 Md. 498, 501-03, 84 A. 383, 384-85 (1912); Galwith v. Galwith, 4 H. & McH. 477, 478 (1689).

By ch. 12, § 14 of the Acts of 1777, 6 which remains virtually unchanged and is now found in Md.Code (1974, 1980 Repl.Vol.) § 3-603(a) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, the General Assembly authorized equity courts to hear and determine alimony causes in the same manner as they were heard and determined by English ecclesiastical courts under English law. Nevertheless, the 1777 statute was construed as merely confirming the previously existing inherent authority of Maryland equity courts over alimony. It continued their power to award alimony, even though divorce was not sought, if sufficient grounds for a divorce were alleged and proven. Thomas, 294 Md. at 614 n. 16, 451 A.2d at 1220 n. 16; Outlaw, 118 Md. at 502-03, 84 A. at 385; Helms v. Franciscus, 2 Bland 544, 565-74 (1830). By ch. 262 of the Acts of 1841, 7 now § 3-603(a) of

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the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, 8 and Md.Code (1957, 1981 Repl.Vol.), Art. 16, § 1(a), 9 equity courts were given authority to grant both absolute and limited divorces and to award alimony to the wife incidental to an absolute or limited divorce. Thomas, 294 Md. at 609-14, 451 A.2d at 1217-20.

In the absence of a statutory definition of alimony, this Court repeatedly defined alimony as a money allowance payable under a judicial decree by a husband at stated intervals to his wife, or former wife, for her support and maintenance during their joint lives or until the remarriage of the wife, so long as they live separately. Thomas, 294 Md. at 615, 451 A.2d at 1220; Grove v. Frame, 285 Md. 691, 695, 402 A.2d 892, 895 (1979); Wallingsford v. Wallingsford, 6 H. & J. 485, 488 (1823). Moreover, in the absence of statutory standards for the award of alimony, this Court repeatedly indicated the factors to be considered in determining the amount of alimony to be awarded. These factors included the wealth and earning capacity of the spouses, their station in life, their age, physical condition and ability to work, their needs at the time of the divorce, the length of time they lived together,[469 A.2d 1261] and the circumstances leading to the divorce. Brodak v. Brodak, 294 Md. 10, 28, 447 A.2d 847, 856 (1982); Wygodsky v. Wygodsky, 134 Md. 344, 346-47, 106 A. 698, 698-99 (1919). Additionally, this Court repeatedly

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determined that an award of alimony could be modified if the circumstances, needs, and pecuniary condition of the parties change. Brodak, 294 Md. at 29, 447 A.2d at 856; Winkel v. Winkel, 178 Md. 489, 500-01, 15 A.2d 914, 919 (1940); McCaddin v. McCaddin, 116 Md. 567, 574, 82 A. 554, 557 (1911).

By ch. 332 of the Acts of 1975, and ch. 575 of the Acts of 1980, now Md.Code (1957, 1981 Repl.Vol.), Art. 16, §§ 1 through 5, the General Assembly expanded the authority of equity courts in divorce cases over the matter of alimony. Article 16, § 1(a) 10 authorized equity courts, for the first time, to award alimony to either spouse. Article 16, § 1(b) 11 authorized equity courts to determine the amount of alimony to be awarded after considering an enumerated set of factors, most of which had previously been specified by this Court. For the first time, however, the monetary and nonmonetary contributions of the spouses to the well-being of the family and any monetary award granted pursuant to § 3-6A-05 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article were included as factors to be considered. Most important, Art. 16, § 1(c), 12 for the first time, authorized equity courts

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to award alimony for a definite period of time rather than during the joint lives of the spouses, or until the marriage of the spouse receiving alimony (recipient spouse). Additionally, Art. 16, § 5(a) confirmed the authority of equity...

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43 practice notes
  • Cruz v. Silva, No. 0550, September Term, 2008.
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • November 25, 2009
    ...Chapter 575 of the Acts of 1980, the General Assembly of Maryland effected a sweeping restructuring of alimony law. In McAlear v. McAlear, 298 Md. 320, 344-45, 469 A.2d 1256 (1984), Judge Davidson explained that the 1980 Alimony Act represented a fresh legislative approach to the subject of......
  • Skrabak v. Skrabak, No. 674
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1995
    ...the case so that the trial court may, exercising its sound discretion, redetermine the amount of alimony. See, e.g., McAlear v. McAlear, 298 Md. 320, 347, 469 A.2d 1256 (1984); Deering v. Deering, 292 Md. 115, 131, 437 A.2d 883 MONETARY AND ALIMONY AWARDS VACATED; JUDGMENT OF ABSOLUTE DIVOR......
  • Supervisor of Assessments of Baltimore City v. Har Sinai West Corp., No. 1143
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1992
    ...also Wynn v. State, 313 Md. 533, 539, 546 A.2d 465 (1988); Martinez v. Lopez, 300 Md. 91, 102, 476 A.2d 197 (1984); McAlear v. McAlear, 298 Md. 320, 343 n. 25, 469 A.2d 1256 (1984); Skinner v. First United Church, 88 Md.App. 434, 439, 594 A.2d 1245 (1991). Rather, a court "may and ofte......
  • Blaine v. Blaine, No. 150
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1993
    ...Commission on Domestic Relations Laws (the Commission). See Tracey v. Tracey, 328 Md. 380, 385, 614 A.2d 590 (1992); McAlear v. McAlear, 298 Md. 320, 344-45, 469 A.2d 1256 (1984). The bill represented a significant change in the approach to alimony in Maryland. It had previously been the pr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
43 cases
  • Collins v. Collins, No. 120
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • May 30, 2002
    ...assumption here. Nor do we believe that the legislative intent demonstrated by the purposes of the Alimony Act, see McAlear[ v. McAlear, 298 Md. 320, 343 n. 23, 469 A.2d 1256 (1984) ], requires us to hold that the power to reserve alimony has been For example, facts before a court may demon......
  • Ware v. Ware, No. 6200
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 30, 2000
    ...in the case, including any monetary award made. (Citations omitted). The Court of Appeals spoke to the same effect in McAlear v. McAlear, 298 Md. 320, 347, 469 A.2d 1256 [I]n determining the amount of a monetary award, equity courts must consider any award of alimony, while in determining t......
  • Wynn v. State, No. 115
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • August 11, 2005
    ...Taylor, 306 Md. 290, 298, 508 A.2d 964, 968 (1986); Balducci v. Eberly, 304 Md. 664, 674, 500 A.2d 1042, 1048 (1985); McAlear v. McAlear, 298 Md. 320, 328, 469 A.2d 1256, 1260 (1984); Thomas v. Thomas, 294 Md. 605, 613, 451 A.2d 1215, 1219 (1982); Comm'n on Med. Discipline v. Stillman, 291 ......
  • Cruz v. Silva, No. 0550, September Term, 2008.
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • November 25, 2009
    ...Chapter 575 of the Acts of 1980, the General Assembly of Maryland effected a sweeping restructuring of alimony law. In McAlear v. McAlear, 298 Md. 320, 344-45, 469 A.2d 1256 (1984), Judge Davidson explained that the 1980 Alimony Act represented a fresh legislative approach to the subject of......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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