Gisele Altman's long and complicated battle to collect alimony began in 1976 after her husband left their Bethesda home for "an extended vacation" and got a divorce in Nevada, her lawyer said.
Other abandoned spouses in Maryland had faced similar problems because Maryland law made it difficult to collect alimony when a partner deserts and gets a divorce outside the state. ut a ruling yesterday by the Maryland Court of Appeals changed that. The court, affirming lower court decisions in the Altman case, broadened the rights of abandoned spouses to collect alimony payments.
Before 1969, if a spouse left Maryland, got a divorce in another state and the partner did not go there to fight for alimony, the partner lost rights to support, according to Altman's lawyer, Bryan Renehan.
In 1969, the state's high court slightly broadened abandoned spouses' rights. In some cases, the abandoned spouse could collect some payments if the partner left property, such as a house or car, in Maryland. But the deserted spouse, until yesterday's ruling, still had no right to claim alimony from future earnings of the partner, Renehan said.
Altman' alimony troubles began after her husband, a retired government employe, left for "an extended vacation" in 1975, established residency in Nevada and got a divoce in June 1976, Renehan said. Altman, who was suffering from multiple sclerosis, did not go to Nevada to fight the divorce.
A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge ruled in September 1976 that she was entitled to alimony. The ruling broadened the law at that time, and her husband's lawyer appealed, according to Renehan.
While the appeals process continued, Altman, who now lives in a San Diego area nursing home, went through a complicated procedure to enforce the lower court ruling.
By applying each month for state court orders that allow her to collect some of her husband's federal pension, Altman has been able to obtain some payments, her lawyer said.
"But unfortunately it's an expensive procedure, and there's never any certainty of when the money will come in," Renehan said.
Aside from the alimony, Altman's income comes from a $600-a-month government pension, Renehan said.
Renehan said yesterday's ruling "takes a major technical stumbling block out of domestic law in Maryland" and gives courts wider latitude in awarding alimony.