LAUREN ST. CYR
MARK ST. CYR
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
from the Circuit Court for Harford County. Stephen M.
by: Matthew E. Hurff (Laura V. Bearsch, Love, Fleming,
Bearsch & Hurff, LLC on the brief) all of Bel Air, MD for
by: John S. Karas (Karas & Bradford on the brief) all of Bel
Air, MD for Appellee.
Arthur, Reed, JJ.[*]
Md.App. 170] Arthur, J.
divorce judgment, the Circuit Court for Harford County
ordered Mark St. Cyr (" Husband" ) to pay child
support and rehabilitative alimony to Lauren St. Cyr ("
Wife" ). The court also granted Wife use and possession
of the family home for several months.
appeal, Wife challenges the court's factual findings as
to her potential income, the court's exercise of
discretion in determining the amount and duration of alimony,
and the court's exercise of discretion in determining the
time limit for use and possession of the family home.
Although we leave many of the court's findings and
rulings undisturbed, we vacate the judgment in part and
remand so that the court may re-evaluate the alimony award.
Md.App. 171] Factual and Procedural
The Marriage and its Demise
parties to this case were married in 1994. Before the
marriage, Wife worked as an assistant branch manager at a
surety company, earning around $45,000 per year. She stopped
working in 1995, upon the birth of the family's first
child, a daughter. Another daughter was born in 1997,
followed by a son in 1999. Wife served as primary caregiver
to the children.
most of the marriage, Husband served as the family's sole
wage earner. In the first year of the marriage, he earned
less than Wife. His income gradually increased as his career
in sales and distribution progressed. In 2000, Husband
started working in a management position.
the marriage, Husband and Wife consumed nearly all of their
household income, saving little. They lived in a house that
tested the extent of their means. In
2004, they nearly lost the home to foreclosure. Wife did not
return to work at that time. Instead, Husband sold the house
to a lender, rented it from the lender for two years, and
repurchased it at a substantially higher price. When he fell
delinquent on mortgage payments again in 2010, he negotiated
a loan modification that allowed him to make payments at a
temporary interest rate of two percent, subject to sharp
annual increases beginning in March 2015.
2009, Wife was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. She
underwent chemotherapy and bone marrow extraction, and her
cancer went into remission. Husband provided little emotional
support during this time of medical need.
fall of 2011 at the latest, Husband started an extramarital
affair. Wife learned of the relationship, but agreed to [228
Md.App. 172] attempt to reconcile with Husband after he
denied that the relationship was sexual. For several months,
Husband lived in the family home on many nights, while
secretly spending other nights with another woman at an
apartment that he had rented.
eventually learned of her husband's deception. In
September 2012, the parties separated permanently. Husband
did not return to the family home.
The Divorce Action
1, 2013, Husband filed a complaint for absolute divorce in
the Circuit Court for Harford County. He asked the court to
grant him sole legal custody and shared physical custody of
the parties' minor children.
counterclaimed for divorce, sole legal custody and primary
physical custody of the minor children, alimony, child
support, equitable division of marital property, use and
possession of the family home and family-use personal
property, and counsel fees.
a master's report and recommendation, the circuit court
issued a pendente lite order that granted Wife use and
possession of the family home and required Husband to
continue paying the mortgage (approximately $2,850 per
month). In addition, the order required Husband to pay
alimony and child support for the two minor children.
later amended and supplemented her pleadings, asking the
court to transfer title of the family home to her and to
declare the couples' oldest child to be a destitute adult
child for support purposes.
Trial in the Circuit Court
court heard the case on five trial days between September 22,
2014, and October 6, 2014. Much of the testimony concerned
the parties' financial circumstances.
time of trial, Husband was 46 years old with an extensive
work history. He earned in excess of $200,000 in [228 Md.App.
173] annual salary and bonuses in an executive or management
position. On the other hand, Wife, at the age of 47, had not
been employed for nearly two decades. A central issue was
whether she was capable of re-entering the workforce.
testified that Wife had decided that she did not want to
return to work after the birth of their first child and that
he had supported that decision while the children were young.
According to Husband, he asked his wife to contribute
financially when they faced the threat of foreclosure in
2004, but she maintained that
she was " never going back to work." He testified
that, at other times when he brought up the possibility of
bringing a second income to the household, she would respond
that there was " no way" that she would resume
working. He admitted that his wife sometimes slept
excessively when she was experiencing health problems during
the later years of the marriage. He had observed that she had
always been able to wake up in the morning " if she
needed to" to attend to the needs of the children.
to Wife, she and her husband mutually decided that she would
be a stay-at-home mother so that the family could follow
Husband's career path. During cross-examination, Wife
stated that she believed that Husband should continue to bear
sole financial responsibility for the family after the
separation: " That is what we signed up for. . . . That
is his responsibility[.]" She added: " From the
very onset of the marriage, the agreement that Mark and I set
forth was Mark would be the person who was the breadwinner in
the family, that was extremely clear, and I would be the one
raising the children." When counsel asked more
specifically about her future expectations of support, she
answered: " I expect Mark to fulfill the duties that he
said that he would twenty years ago."
her physical condition, Wife testified that she began to
experience chronic fatigue around 2007. At the time of her
cancer diagnosis in 2009, she also tested positive for
mononucleosis, which she characterized as " the cause of
the fatigue." Wife testified that, after learning of her
husband's [228 Md.App. 174] affair, she underwent therapy
at the instructions of her doctors. She reported that she was
currently taking an antidepressant, a mood stabilizer,
thyroid medication, and blood pressure medication. She stated
that her cancer was in remission at the time, but that she
suffered from neuropathy in her hands and feet as a result of
time of trial, Wife did not believe that she would be able to
resume employment. She said that she was still physically
weak and continued to experience episodes of depression.
Regarding her daily functioning, she stated: " I have to
pace myself. I know I can't go out for twelve hours in a
day. I know I can't do a ten hour day."
response to a question about her future employment capacity,
It depends on what my doctors suggest. . . . I'm in
constant contact with them. I still have a few months left in
remission. Right now, based on the limited amount of energy
that I have to pace myself during the day, I don't
believe that I would be able to perform a full day's work
that would be required by any employer. So, I would have to
consult with my doctors. Maybe in November this year
we'll see if things have improved healthwise.
Wife testified that her fatigue had not prevented her from
involving herself heavily in her children's activities.
She opined that her level of activity outside the home was
" a little different than working full-time" and
not " a twelve hour day," which she said was "
typically how long you work when you're working in a
corporate world." She stated that she needed " to
pace [her]self" and she " wish[ed] that [she] had
more energy to do some things even better."
asked whether she was capable of working full-time, Wife
responded: " Not at this time." She said that her
ability to work part-time " would depend" on the
circumstances, but she believed that she " wouldn't
be able to do anything that has to do with standing up or
her intention to provide financial support to her children,
she answered: " It would depend on my health in the
future. I don't know."
Md.App. 175] During closing arguments, counsel for Husband
asked the court to impute income of $400 per week to Wife for
the purpose of calculating alimony and child support. Counsel
argued that Wife's testimony " made it abundantly
clear [that] she [had] no intention to return to work"
and that the court should not simply accept her self-reported
opinion that she was physically unable to work. He pointed
out that she had made no efforts to seek employment or to
increase her employability and that she produced " no
medical evidence" of documentation of her alleged
ongoing symptoms. Counsel for Husband argued that, although
it would be unreasonable to expect a 47-year-old woman with a
20-year employment gap to " go to work in some office
and make $50,000.00 a year," the court should conclude
that she could at least " get a job for forty hours a
week making $10.00 an hour."
closing, counsel for Wife asserted that she had not worked
for two decades " by the agreement of the parties."
Her attorney commented that, under her existing
circumstances, " [s]he is at $10.00 an hour and
[Husband] has admitted that." Her attorney argued that
she was " entitled to indefinite alimony" because
" her history of medical problems and . . . her current
physical limitations" meant that she could " never
hope to achieve a level of self-sufficiency that will enable
her to obtain the standard of living the parties would
Judgment of the Circuit Court
February 25, 2015, the circuit court issued a thoughtful and
comprehensive memorandum opinion setting forth its rulings on
each of the claims raised by the parties.
the court granted the divorce on the ground of Husband's
adultery, finding that the allegations of adultery had been
admitted and proven.
received sole legal custody of the parties' two minor
children. The court granted Husband's request for
visitation rights with the parties' son, who was then a
15-year-old high school sophomore. Husband had not requested
a visitation [228 Md.App. 176] order regarding the minor
daughter, a 17-year-old high school senior who was estranged
from her father.
court granted Wife use and possession of the family home
until February 2016 and ordered Husband to continue paying
the mortgage, taxes, and insurance during that period. The
court directed that a trustee be appointed to sell the house
as soon as possible after February 1, 2016, and to divide any
net proceeds from the sale evenly between the
court rejected Wife's argument that she was incapable of
working and instead found that she was voluntarily
impoverished. The court concluded that she had the capacity
to work 40 hours per week at an " entry level"
position with a salary of $10 per hour. The court agreed with
Husband that " a conservative approach" of imputing
a gross monthly income of $1,733.33 per month was " fair
and appropriate." In addition, the court determined
Husband's monthly gross income to be $18,614, a figure
that was in line with some of the highest estimates offered
weighing the statutory factors pertaining to an alimony
award, the court awarded rehabilitative alimony of $1,800
per month for a period of 15 years. The court stated that
Wife had not met her burden of proving that she was entitled
to indefinite alimony. In view of Wife's failure to
adduce medical or other evidence to substantiate her
insistence that she was incapable of working, the court
commented that it would not " speculate" on the
questions of " how long it [would] take" for Wife