How to get spousal support during separation when husband is refusing to pay?

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How to get spousal support during separation when husband is refusing to pay?

Husband makes over $300,000 a year; wife makes $45,000 a year. Husband is refusing to pay spousal support during time of separation. He is refusing to officially separate. Wife cannot afford to live on her current salary. How to proceed? Wife’s attorney has indicated that she needs to spend $15,000 on a retainer in order to have the courts mandate spousal support during this time. How to proceed as there is no way to produce $15,000 at this time. Is there a free legal service for the family court in MD? How do you contact them? How do you qualify for free services?

Asked on February 2, 2011 under Family Law, Maryland


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

The wife needs another lawyer and she also needs to rethink separation--going straight to filing for divorce is probably a much better idea for her.

First, while there are some free legal services available for impoverished women and women without other resources (try looking up "legal aid"; also try contacting women's advocacy or support groups, who would likely either have attorneys or have recommendations), a woman making $45k--which is at or slightly above the nation's median income--will almost certainly not qualify for free legal services. Those services are typically for the poor, and while this wife earns less than her husband, she's middle class even on her own.

However, a $15k retainer is decidely excessive for this type and amount of work; there is little or no doubt but that the wife could find a *substantially* less expensive attorney. The wife should contact her state or local bar assocation(s) for recommendations. (Arguably, this attorney has even committed an ethics violation by attempting to charge this much.)

Second, if the spouses are looking to separate and she's looking for spousal support anyway (rather than the two of them simply going their separate ways)--and also, there is a strong imbalance in income (he makes 7 times what she does) and presumably a fair amount of assets (based on what their combined income was) to distribute--it is probably a better idea to simply immediately divorce and look for an asset distribution and support, rather than separate first, try to get support in separation, then later divorce. This is something the wife should discuss with her new attorney.

Rarely is a legal separation a good idea, as opposed to going straight to divorce, when that is option; the separation leaves the two parties entangled for an additional period of time.

Good luck.

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