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Voluntary Impoverishment in Maryland Alimony and Child Support Cases

In my November 16, 2010 blog I briefly mentioned the concept of voluntary impoverishment. Maryland law describes voluntary impoverishment as freely, or an act by choice, to reduce oneself to poverty or deprive oneself of resources with the intention of avoiding child support, John O. v. Jane O. 90 Md. App. 406 (1992). Our case law has further explained voluntary impoverishment as whenever an individual has made the free and conscious choice, not compelled by factors beyond his or her control, to render himself or herself without adequate resources or income, Gordon v. Gordon, 174 Md. App. 583, 923 A.2d 149 (2007). Income is a factor in child support matters, divorce matters involving alimony, and a factor when deciding whether or not to award a party attorney’s fees.

In order to calculate child support in a Maryland child support case both parties’ incomes are needed. Maryland Code Family Law, § 12-201(h) defines income as (1) actual income of a parent, if the parent is employed to full capacity; or (2) potential income of a parent, if the parent is voluntarily impoverished. Before a Judge can impute a party a potential income for the purpose of calculating child support they must find that the party is in fact voluntarily impoverishing themselves. Oftentimes, establishing voluntary impoverishment is not a cut and dry as it may seem. To assist the Court in making a determination if a parent is voluntarily impoverished for purposes of calculating a child support obligation, several factors as to the parent are considered, including, but not limited to: (1) his or her current physical condition; (2) his or her respective level of education; (3) the timing of any change in employment or financial circumstances relative to the divorce proceedings; (4) the relationship of the parties prior to the divorce proceedings; (5) his or her efforts to find and retain employment; (6) his or her efforts to secure retraining if that is needed; (7) whether he or she has ever withheld support; (8) his or her past work history; (9) the area in which the parties live and the status of the job market there; and (10) any other considerations presented by either party. Gordon v. Gordon, 174 Md. App. 583, 923 A.2d 149 (2007); Stull v. Stull, 144 Md. App. 237, 797 A.2d 809 (2002).

Income, and in turn voluntary impoverishment in some case, also come into play in divorce matters involving alimony. For more information on how alimony is calculated see our October 2, 2009 blog. A court may determine that a party can pay alimony based on voluntary impoverishment when they find that that party has voluntarily impoverished him or herself in an effort to fraudulently deprive their spouse of alimony. Colburn v. Colburn, 15 Md.App. 503 (1972). Conversely, a court may find that a party should not be awarded alimony based on the fact that they are voluntarily impoverishing themselves.

For more information on Maryland alimony and child support matters contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney.