Meyer v. Meyer

Decision Date07 December 1978
Docket NumberNo. 381,381
PartiesJoy A. MEYER v. John E. MEYER.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Conrad W. Varner, Hagerstown, with whom was Russell R. Marks, Hagerstown, on brief, for appellant.

Kenneth J. Mackley, Hagerstown, with whom were Mackley & Gilbert, Hagerstown, on brief, for appellee.

Argued Before MOORE, MASON and COUCH, JJ.

COUCH, Judge.

Joy A. Meyer, appellant, files this appeal feeling aggrieved by the action of the Circuit Court for Washington County in granting her former husband's petition for revocation of alimony.

It is apparent that the relevant facts are not in dispute. Following a marriage of 23 years, during which six children were born to the parties, appellant was granted a divorce a vinculo matrimonii (1974) on the grounds of appellee's adultery. The decree also awarded appellant $150.00 per month alimony, and a similar amount for each of the two children who were minors at that time. Three of the parties six children lived with appellee after the divorce. Nearly two years later (1976), the court increased both the alimony and child support to $175.00 per month each because of appellant's increased expenses and because support for one child had ceased when he reached majority. In October of 1977 appellant began living with a man to whom she is not married. This man contributes $200.00 per month for household expenses. The three youngest children of the litigants, including a minor son, also continue to live in this household. Thereafter, appellee filed a petition for revocation of alimony on the grounds that appellant was working and receiving a weekly wage sufficient to meet her needs, and because of the fact that she is living with another man to whom she is not married, with her minor son also residing in that household. 1

After a full hearing, the chancellor ordered appellee to be relieved of alimony payments on dual grounds:

"(1) Mrs. Meyer appears to be better off financially to receive $200.00 a month from her paramour than to receive $175.00 per month alimony, and

(2) She is exposing her minor child to the scene of living with her paramour."

On appeal, appellant presents two questions:

(1) Whether appellant's cohabitation with a man to whom she is not married in the presence of her 17 year old son constitutes sufficient grounds for revocation of alimony.

(2) Whether the lower court erred in revoking appellant's alimony on financial grounds where appellee's income had increased 35% And where appellant's income without alimony is less than her monthly expenses.

Appellant argues, and we agree, that the chancellor's real concern was whether her post-divorce conduct was a sufficient ground for revocation of her alimony. The parties stipulated that appellant's demurrer to appellee's petition was overruled by the court on the ground "that the petitioner was not required to pay alimony to the respondent because she was living with a man to whom she was not married. . . ." The record also shows that the chancellor, in his "Opinion and Order of Court" following a hearing on the merits, mainly considered the post-divorce conduct issue, although he did mention the financial picture to some extent, at least so far as income was concerned. We also note that the chancellor specifically cited the fact that appellant was "exposing her minor child to the scene of living with her paramour" as a ground for granting the relief sought by appellee. From the above, we have no difficulty concluding the chancellor's real concern was with appellant's post-divorce conduct, and we shall address this question first.

We deem it appropriate first to quote Judge Prescott, later Chief Judge, when he spoke for the Court in Courson v. Courson, 213 Md. 183, 185-86, 129 A.2d 917, 918-9 (1957), and outlined the history of alimony and how it had been dealt with in this State before reaching the specific issue involved in that case. Judge Prescott stated:

"From the time of Foliamb's case (44 Eliz.), 3 Salk. 138, (about 1602) until the divorce act of 20 and 21 Vict. ch. 85 (about 1857), no absolute divorce could be judicially granted in England. The only legal separation recognized was a divorce from bed and board upon a decree of the Ecclesiastical Court. These Courts, as an incident to the decree, granted alimony, temporary or permanent, but only as a part of the decree A mensa et thoro. Alimony, therefore, under the English law had no independent existence, and no Court, not even the Ecclesiastical, could grant alimony when it was the only relief sought. This doctrine was adopted and followed in the early decisions of many of the States in this country, but not in Maryland.

During the short existence of the Republic in England (1649-1660), after the first King Charles was beheaded, the Ecclesiastical Court was abolished; and, as a result, for at least until the restoration of the monarchy, the entire jurisdiction in all cases of alimony and of separate maintenance devolved, as a matter of necessity, upon the Court of Chancery. In Maryland, there never was an Ecclesiastical Court; therefore the High Court of Chancery (or the Court of Ordinary) always had, even under the Provincial Government, entire jurisdiction of claims for alimony, or separate maintenance, from the husband based on his misconduct. Apparently, at that time this misconduct was limited to adultery and cruelty. Galwith v. Galwith, 4 Harris & McH. 477 (a case wherein the Lord Proprietary of Maryland presided); Hewitt v. Hewitt, 1 Bland 101; Helms v. Franciscus, 2 Bland 544, 565. In 1777, by legislative enactment (now Sec. 14 of Art. 16 of the Maryland Code) 2 the courts of equity of this State were given specific authority to hear and determine all causes for alimony.

From the earliest times in this State, divorces were granted by, and emanated from, the legislature; but an attempt by the legislature to grant alimony was held to be a judicial function and therefore unconstitutional. Crane v. Meginnis, 1 Gill & J. 463, 474. In 1841, the legislature granted jurisdiction of all divorce actions to the courts of equity of this State (now Secs. 31, 33 and 34 of Art. 16). 3 It was thereafter held that these enactments did not preclude the legislature from granting divorces, Wright v. Wright, 2 Md. 429, 450, but by Sec. 33 of Art. 3 of the Maryland Constitution, the legislature is now prohibited from so doing.

So, at the present time and for many years past in Maryland, the jurisdiction to hear and determine questions of divorces and alimony, both temporary and permanent, is, and has been, vested in the courts of equity in this State. Alimony has never been defined here by statute; but, from the beginning, it has never been considered, as in some States, as a division in property. It 'is a maintenance afforded to the wife, where the husband refuses to give it, or where from his improper conduct compels her to separate from him. It is not a portion of his real estate, to be assigned to her in fee simple * * * but a provision for her support, to continue during their joint lives, or so long as they live separate.' Wallingsford v. Wallingsford, 6 Harris & J. 485, 488. And, without exception, this Court has held that in a suit for alimony alone, the wife must allege and prove facts sufficient in themselves to support a decree for a divorce A mensa or A vinculo. In other words, in order that she be entitled to alimony, she must show she is entitled to either a partial or an absolute divorce. Among the many cases so holding are: Staub v. Staub, 170 Md. 202, 208, 183 A. 605; Hood v. Hood, 138 Md. 355, 361, 113 A. 895; and Polley v. Polley, 128 Md. 60, 63, 97 A. 526."

Other principles pertinent here have evolved over the course of time; for example, unless the decree of divorce awards alimony or reserves jurisdiction, the court is without power to enter a subsequent award of alimony. Sody v. Sody, 32 Md.App. 644, 363 A.2d 568 (1976). If there are substantial changes in needs, financial conditions, and circumstances of the parties, the trial court retains continuing jurisdiction to amend its divorce decree awarding alimony to a wife. Willoughby v. Willoughby, 256 Md. 590, 261 A.2d 452 (1970); LaChance v. LaChance, 28 Md.App. 571, 346 A.2d 676 (1975); Gosman v. Gosman, 19 Md.App. 66, 309 A.2d 34, Modified on other grounds 271 Md. 514, 318 A.2d 821 (1973). Misconduct of a wife, including adultery, after a divorce a mensa et thoro but prior to an a vinculo divorce, may cause her to lose her right to alimony. Courson v. Courson, supra.

It appears settled that under our existing case law the adultery of a wife, prior to an absolute divorce, constitutes a ground for revoking a prior award to her of permanent alimony. In the case before us, however, we are confronted with conduct subsequent to an absolute divorce, and thus the rule of Courson does not necessarily extend to the instant factual situation. Indeed, Judge Prescott in Courson stated specifically:

"It will be noted, we have not been required in this suit to pass upon the right of a wife, who has been granted an absolute divorce and alimony and who thereafter commits adultery, 4 to continue to receive support from the former husband, and express no opinion thereon at this time." 213 Md. at 188-9, 129 A.2d at 920.

The time has now arrived for this Court to express its opinion on this question.

Judge Morton said for this Court in Atkinson v. Atkinson, 13 Md.App. 65, 71, 281 A.2d 407, 410 (...

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4 cases
  • Mendelson v. Mendelson
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 1 d2 Setembro d2 1987
    ...misconduct" which permits a trial court to reduce or terminate contractual spousal support. Appellee relies on Meyer v. Meyer, 41 Md.App. 13, 394 A.2d 1220 (1978), cert. denied, 284 Md. 746 (1979), for her argument that her post-divorce cohabitation does not in itself justify reduction or t......
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    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • 1 d1 Setembro d1 1986
    ...A.2d 232 (1954); Staub v. Staub, 170 Md. 202, 183 A. 605 (1936); Marshall v. Marshall, 162 Md. 116, 159 A. 260 (1932); Meyer v. Meyer, 41 Md.App. 13, 394 A.2d 1220 (1978), cert. denied, 284 Md. 746 (1979); Flood v. Flood, 16 Md.App. 280, 295 A.2d 784 (1972); Abell v. Abell, 12 Md.App. 99, 2......
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    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 1 d0 Setembro d0 1991
    ...any hearing in the circuit court on alimony or a monetary award and has no claim to items owned by appellee. See Meyer v. Meyer, 41 Md.App. 13, 21, 394 A.2d 1220 (1978) (divorce a vinculo matrimonii terminates all rights of either spouse which are dependent upon marriage and not Appellant a......
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    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 18 d2 Agosto d2 2020
    ...could have filed his petition is, therefore, without support. See Stansbury v. Stansbury, 223 Md. 475, 477 (1960); see also Meyer v. Meyer, 41 Md. App. 13, 18 (1978). Upon the record before us, we discern no abuse of discretion in the circuit court's award of $20,000 in attorneys' fees to M......

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