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Stevens v. Stevens

Decided: January 9, 1964.

STEVENS
v.
STEVENS



Appeal from the Circuit Court for Baltimore County; Raine, J.

Henderson, Hammond, Prescott, Marbury and Sybert, JJ. Hammond, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.

Hammond

A husband, unsuccessful in his petition seeking reduction of support payments to his former wife ordered by a divorce decree which adopted the terms of a separation agreement, asks us to reverse the order denying him relief.

The parties entered into a separation agreement dated October 21, 1954. It recited that they had ceased to live as husband and wife and had agreed "upon a settlement of all questions of Alimony, Alimony Pendente Lite, and all rights of every kind and character that have accrued, or may accrue, to each of the parties hereto against the other by reason of their marital relations." It was agreed that the husband should pay the wife twenty-five dollars a week "which payments shall cease upon the death or remarriage" of the wife. Each party released the other and his or her estate from "any debt or claims of any nature or kind now existing or hereafter arising * * * because of the fact the said parties are or were at any time, husband and wife * * *" and further released "all rights, or all claims" against the estate of the other "except such rights, or claims as are specifically given to either should there be any outstanding Last Will and Testament."

On October 21, 1958, the Circuit Court for Baltimore County granted the husband an absolute divorce from the wife on the ground of voluntary separation, and in the decree provided that the agreement between the parties dated October 21, 1954, "be

and the same is hereby approved to the same extent as if all provisions of said agreement were outlined in detail herein."

In 1959 the husband filed a "Petition for Reduction of Alimony" on the claim that his income had dropped some one hundred thirty dollars a month. The wife agreed that the provision of paragraph six of the separation agreement, calling for the husband to maintain existing life insurance policies without change of beneficiary could be deleted from the agreement, and relief was denied as to the amount of support on the recommendation of the Master.

In 1962 another petition seeking a reduction in the amount of the weekly payments was filed by the husband on the basis of an alleged reduction in pay of some $100.00 a month from that he enjoyed at the time of the decree, his remarriage and an inheritance of some $38,000 the wife had received.

The testimony at the hearing on the 1962 petition showed that at the time of the divorce the husband made about six hundred dollars a month and the wife was employed at a salary of approximately forty-five dollars a week take home pay and had no other income. The husband's gross earnings in 1959 were $9,377.21, in 1960 they were $8,148.62, in 1961 about the same, and in 1962 were $8,900.00. Also he no longer had to pay $15.00 a week for the support of the couple's daughter, she having become emancipated under the definition in the agreement. He had a bank account of $5,000 and owned a ten-acre tract of land near Monkton.

The wife's salary has not changed. She had inherited some $38,000 from the husband's father, but had paid $4,500 of this to the husband in compromise of his claim to all of the inheritance. Payments for inheritance taxes and counsel fees further reduced the inheritance to a net of about $30,000.

Judge Raine said that because of the $30,000 inheritance of the wife he would be inclined to lower the support payments if he could, but that he had concluded the court was without power to modify the support provision of the separation agreement. He said "Article 16, Section 28, provides that an agreement made between husband and wife respecting support and maintenance shall be ...


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