BLUM v. BLUM [No. 173, September Term, 1981.]
295 Md. 135 (1983)
453 A.2d 824
BENJAMIN H. BLUM v. ARLENE G. BLUM
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
Decided January 5, 1983.
Jay Fred Cohen, with whom were Bruce R. Carter and Cohen, Benter, Liner & Carter on the brief, for appellant.
Joel Margolis for appellee.
The cause was argued before MURPHY, C.J., and SMITH, ELDRIDGE, COLE, DAVIDSON and RODOWSKY, JJ.
DAVIDSON, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the question whether exemptions from attachment provided by Maryland Code (1975, 1982 Cum. Supp.) § 15-601.1 of the Commercial Law Article apply to a wage lien for contractual spousal support ordered pursuant to Maryland Code (1957, 1981 Repl. Vol., 1982 Cum.Supp.), Art. 16, § 5B (b) (1). More particularly, the question is whether the trial court erred in ordering a wage lien in an amount in excess of 25 percent of the wages due.
Article 16, § 5B (b) (1)
Section 15-601.1 of the Commercial Law Article provides in pertinent part:
The petitioner, Benjamin H. Blum (husband), and the respondent, Arlene G. Blum (wife), entered into a separation agreement on 15 December 1976. As amended on 15 March 1977, the agreement provided, among other things, that the husband pay the wife the expressly nonmodifiable amount of $175 per week for her support (contractual spousal support). On 24 March 1977, the husband was granted a divorce in the Dominican Republic. The divorce decree incorporated the separation agreement.
On 5 December 1978, the wife petitioned the Circuit Court for Baltimore County to enforce the separation agreement. On 21 December 1979, the trial court determined, among other things, that the amount of contractual spousal support was not modifiable, and that the husband was $13,700 in arrears. The trial court ordered the husband to pay the wife $175 per week. The husband appealed to the Court of Special Appeals. In an unreported opinion, that Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. Blum v. Blum, (No. 42, September Term, 1980, filed 22 September 1980). No petition for a writ of certiorari was filed in this Court.
Thereafter, the husband failed to make any contractual
The husband appealed to the Court of Special Appeals. In an unreported opinion, that Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court. Blum v. Blum, (No. 379, September Term, 1981, filed 24 November 1981). The husband filed a petition for a writ of certiorari that we granted. We shall affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.
In United States v. Williams, 279 Md. 673, 370 A.2d 1134 (1977), this Court considered the question whether the exemptions from attachment established by the statutory predecessor to § 15-601.1 of the Commercial Law Article
In Pope v. Pope, 283 Md. 531, 390 A.2d 1128 (1978), this
Here, the question presented is whether the principle established in Williams applies when the wage lien is ordered, pursuant to Art. 16, § 5B (b) (1), for the purpose of enforcing an order to pay contractual spousal support, rather than an award of alimony. The husband contends that there is a distinction between alimony and contractual spousal support. He maintains that the obligation to pay alimony is a "duty growing out of the marital relation," whereas the obligation to pay contractual spousal support, founded upon mutual agreement, is not a duty, but "merely a debt." He concludes that because the wage lien here is ordered for the purpose of enforcing a debt, rather than a legal duty, the exemptions provided by § 15-601.1 of the Commercial Law Article apply. The wife contends that under Art. 16, § 5B (b) (1), there is no distinction between alimony and contractual spousal support. She maintains that contractual spousal support, like alimony, constitutes a duty, not a debt, and that both evolve from the same underlying obligation — the duty to provide intra-familial support. She concludes that, under these circumstances, the exemptions from attachment provided by § 15-601.1 do not apply to a wage lien ordered, pursuant to Art. 16, § 5B (b) (1), for the purpose of enforcing an order to pay contractual spousal support.
The language of Art. 16, § 5B (b) (1) is unambiguous. It authorizes a court to order a lien to pay previously ordered "support of a spouse," without reference to whether that support is contractual spousal support or alimony. Thus, the plain language of the statute establishes the Legislature's intent. Under Art. 16, § 5B (b) (1), there is no distinction between a wage lien ordered to enforce an order to pay contractual spousal support and one ordered to enforce an award of alimony.
This conclusion is supported by a 1950 amendment to the Maryland Constitution, Art. III, § 38, 1950 Md. Laws, ch. 14, ratified 7 November 1950. Before 1950, Maryland Constitution, Art. III, § 38 provided that "[n]o person shall be imprisoned for debt." Moreover, this Court had established that the obligation to pay alimony was not a debt, but "a duty growing out of the marital relation and resting upon a sound public policy," Dickey v. Dickey, 154 Md. 675, 681, 141 A. 387, 390 (1928), and therefore could be enforced by imprisonment, whereas the obligation to pay contractual spousal support, being founded upon mutual agreement and not upon a legal duty, could not be so enforced. E.g., Dickey, 154 Md. at 679-81, 141 A. at 389-90; see Brown v. Brown, 287 Md. 279-81, 412 A.2d 396, 399-400 (1980).
Maryland Constitution, Art. III, § 38, as amended in 1950,
The effect of the 1950 constitutional amendment was considered by this Court in Brown v. Brown, 287 Md. 273, 412 A.2d 396 (1980). See Speckler v. Speckler, 256 Md. 635, 637, 261 A.2d 466, 467 (1970). Thus, in Brown, we said:
Given the fact that under Art. 16, § 5B (b) (1), no distinction is to be drawn between contractual spousal support and alimony, and the fact that the obligation to pay contractual spousal support, like the obligation to pay
Judgment of the Court of Special Appeals affirmed.
Costs to be paid by petitioner.
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