Understanding Alimony: The Landmark Case of Tracey v. Tracey

Anne Arundel County divorce lawyer helping clients balance alimony decisions

When a couple decides to end their marriage, several legal and financial issues must be resolved. One such matter is the potential award of alimony or spousal support. As an Anne Arundel County divorce lawyer, it is my job to help clients navigate this complex area of law. To shed some light on this topic, let’s take a closer look at a landmark Maryland case that continues to guide alimony determinations: Tracey v. Tracey, 328 Md. 380 (1992).

The Case Background and Question

Tracey v. Tracey centered around an indefinite alimony award. The primary question was whether a spouse’s part-time job income should be considered in addition to her regular full-time work income when computing the alimony award. This issue has significant implications on how courts interpret and apply alimony statutes, particularly Md. Code, Fam. Law § 11-106, which is the governing statute for alimony awards in Maryland.

Should every source of income be factored into the alimony decision? How do courts ensure a fair and equitable outcome? These were the critical questions at the heart of this case.

The Court’s Analysis

Before we dive into the specifics of the Tracey v. Tracey case, it’s important to note that trial court decisions on alimony will generally not be disturbed unless there was arbitrary use of discretion or the judgment was clearly wrong. This standard gives significant leeway to trial judges, who are expected to make equitable judgments based on the unique facts and circumstances of each case.

In Tracey v. Tracey, Robert Tracey argued for a literal interpretation of the requirement to consider “all income” of a party when determining an alimony award. In his view, the trial court made a reversible error by excluding the $400 monthly income that Ruth earned from her part-time job at McDonald’s. He contended that this extra income, combined with her regular government clerk wages, made Ruth capable of reasonably supporting herself, thereby eliminating the need for any alimony.

The Court disagreed. They interpreted § 11-106(b)(11)(i) within the context of its larger purpose, deciding that it did not require the automatic inclusion of wages from temporary, part-time work. The Court cautioned against an indiscriminate inclusion of all income from part-time work on top of regular employment as it may distort a true picture of a party’s financial condition. The ultimate aim of the statute is to create a fair and equitable alimony decision, not to produce an overly burdensome or unrealistic result.

Interestingly, the Court’s interpretation of “income” under § 11–106(b)(11)(i) signified wages or salary from regular, full-time employment. Any additional income from a temporary, part-time job like Ruth’s stint at McDonald’s was seen as an interim measure, filling the gap between the Traceys’ final separation and their financial settlement upon divorce. The Court opined that Ruth’s part-time income should not bar her from receiving alimony.

Indefinite vs. Fixed-Term Alimony

The Court also addressed the issue of whether the alimony should be for a fixed period or indefinite. Generally, the statutory scheme favors fixed-term or rehabilitative alimony, which aims to help the recipient spouse become self-supporting.

However, the Court recognized that there are cases where rehabilitative alimony would not be appropriate. Specifically, the Court cited subsection of § 11–106(c), which highlighted scenarios where indefinite alimony might be justifiable – such as when the recipient can’t reasonably be expected to become self-supporting, or when the standards of living of the parties post-divorce would be unconscionably disparate.

The Court agreed with the trial court’s determination that Ruth was not self-supporting and that, given her age and qualifications, she had reached her potential in the labor market. It also noted that Ruth’s 1990 earnings were $16,849, and only roughly 28% of Robert’s income of about $61,000. Therefore, even considering her part-time job, Ruth’s income was still insufficient to meet her needs, and the difference in the parties’ incomes was unconscionably disparate, justifying the granting of indefinite alimony.


In summary, the Tracey v. Tracey case illuminates the intricacies of alimony decisions and how courts strive to balance equity with statutory requirements. The decision clarified the term “income” within the context of Maryland’s alimony statute and emphasized the case-by-case nature of determining whether the alimony should be fixed-term or indefinite.

If you are going through a divorce and are concerned about alimony, it’s essential to seek advice from an experienced divorce attorney in Annapolis. We regularly practice in Anne Arundel County, as well as surrounding counties. Remember, each case is unique, and understanding the details of rulings like Tracey v. Tracey can significantly impact your financial future post-divorce.

Image Credit: Pixabay: StevePB

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