Florida Alimony Law
Alimony ensures that the economically weaker spouse is protected when the marriage ends in dissolution. In Florida, common law marriage is not recognized by the law, which means that to claim alimony the petitioner has to establish the existence of a legal marriage. Since the very objective of alimony is to provide financial assistance to one spouse, he or she has to prove their need for such assistance as well. There are some other critical aspects to establish in alimony cases in Florida.
Guidelines followed in alimony cases
Florida statute 61.08 outlines the critical guidelines that need to be followed in determining alimony. Under the law, the court is required to take into consideration each and every relevant economic factor including the following ones:
- The length and duration of the marriage, which plays a very significant role in the amount and type of alimony awarded
- The living standards that the spouses have enjoyed while married
- The age of both spouses
- The physical as well as mental condition that both spouses are in
- Finances of each spouse including the non-marital property & liabilities and marital debts and assets apportioned to each. Sources of income of both parties is also a critical factor to consider in this respect
- The contribution made by each spouse to their marriage. This includes the non- financial contributions such as child care, homecare , education, career improvement of the opposing spouse
In addition to these factors, the court also takes into consideration if any time is required for either spouse to gain training, qualifications, or education which will enable them to find employment. The goal of the court throughout the divorce and alimony process is to ensure that both spouses get fair and just treatment. Allowing either spouse to gain employability is in line with this objective. The court shall consider any other factors that will help determine fair and just alimony payments.
The spouse who is paying the alimony may be asked to get a life insurance policy or bond. This secures the alimony payment if they should pass away before the court awarded support period comes to an end. This does impose an additional burden on the paying spouse but from the perspective of the recipient spouse, this is simply a way to protect them further. The insurance may be particularly relevant in cases where permanent periodic alimony has been awarded since the risk of the paying spouse predeceasing the recipient is always a possibility.
No standard formula for alimony
One of the key aspects to understand about Florida alimony is that there is no standard formula for its determination. While one judge may order substantial alimony in a case, the same case may garner little or no alimony when another judge is sitting in on the hearing. The amount of alimony determined as reasonable depends heavily on the judge’s personal assessment of the individual’s (petitioner’s) financial status and ability to gain employment.
How the judge views the petitioner and his or her spouse’s contribution towards the marriage also impacts the amount alimony to be determined. In the absence of a pre- approved mathematical formula to calculate alimony, it is near impossible to predict exactly how much a petitioner is likely to get in an alimony case. While this may be the cause of much anxiety for the spouse making the request for alimony, it does ensure that each and every case is given due consideration by the court. It also ensures that any unique circumstances of either spouse get adequate attention and are factored in when the alimony is determined.
Different types of alimony
Spousal support, alimony and maintenance all mean the same thing in a Florida dissolution of marriage case. However, there are different kinds of alimony that may be granted in different circumstances. It is important to remember that the same set of circumstances may be viewed differently by different judges and as a result the type of alimony awarded may differ too. It is best to avoid going into the alimony process without any preconceived notions of what may result from it or how much alimony may be awarded at the end of the process. In fact, there is no way to ensure or predict whether alimony will be awarded at all or not in the case.
The 2013 Florida Statues (61.08) states that in a proceeding for divorce, the court may grant bridge the gap alimony, rehabilitative alimony, durational alimony or permanent alimony. It also states that a combination of these different forms of alimony may be granted as well if the court deems it just and fair. Of course, there is no universal definition of “just and fair.” Furthermore, the statute states that the court may order that the alimony be paid in the form of a lump sum or in periodic payments or a combination of both. In most cases, the court may order a lump sum alimony payment when the periodic payment is either not feasible or impossible to implement.
Bridge the Gap Alimony – This kind of alimony is ordered when the recipient spouse needs financial support to assist his or her transition from a married person to a single person. The bridge the gap alimony comes with several associated conditions and clauses. To begin with, this kind of alimony does not normally extend beyond a period of 2 years. No modification in alimony amount can be made by either the recipient spouse or the paying spouse and neither can the latter ask for termination of this alimony. However, if the recipient remarries, or the recipient or payee passes away during the period over which the court has ordered the payment of this alimony, it automatically comes to an end.
The bridge- the- gap alimony typically begins right after the final hearing in the divorce proceedings. This financial support is aimed at helping the recipient spouse ‘find their feet’ immediately after the divorce.
Rehabilitative Alimony – When one spouse has not been working for a while before divorce or has never worked before, this kind of alimony becomes critical. Rehabilitative alimony is granted to help the receiver get the training or qualifications necessary to find employment. Before granting this kind of alimony the court asks for a detailed plan for the future from the receiver. This plan needs to outline the time and money he or she requires to complete the training or qualification.
This kind of alimony can be modified if the recipient spouse does not comply with the plan given in court or completes it before time. If a significant change in circumstances occurs, then too the alimony may be modified.
Durational Alimony – This kind of alimony normally addresses those marriages that are deemed to be moderate term (7 to 17 years). There are occasionally some situations where durational alimony can apply to a marriage less than 7 years. A fairly new law, durational alimony often applies when permanent alimony is not justifiable. This kind of alimony is ordered for a specific time period which cannot exceed the actual marriage duration. Remarriage or death of spouse (either one) terminates the alimony. Modifications may be possible to the terms of this kind of alimony if a substantial and significant change in circumstances can be proved by either spouse.
Permanent Periodic Alimony – This is the most contentious form of alimony payable and several organizations and politicians have made public their strong views against this law. In fact, several reforms have been suggested to this law and some reforms have already been already incorporated into the statutes. You should expect significant changes to this form of alimony in the future.
Permanent periodic alimony offers the greatest benefits for the recipient and is, naturally, the worst case scenario for the paying spouse. This alimony is awarded to the spouse who does not have the finances to pay for life’s necessities. The requirements of this form of alimony are that the payments are made until either party passes away or the recipient remarries. The court may also order a modification of the alimony or terminate it. A substantial and significant change in circumstances may be grounds for modification of the alimony. The paying spouse may be able to claim tax deductions for these payments while the receiving spouse generally has to pay tax on them.
The number of years that the couple has been married plays a key role in the awarding of a permanent periodic alimony to either spouse. In general, if the couple has been married for 17 years or more when filing for divorce the chances of the court awarding this form of divorce are rather high. If one spouse’s income or individual financial status is significantly poorer than the other then there is great likelihood of that person becoming the recipient of a permanent periodic alimony award.
On rare occasions, the court awards a permanent periodic alimony in some short term marriages. Usually this happens under unique and exceptional circumstances. For example, if the petitioning spouse has suffered a serious debilitating ailment that prevents them from seeking employment. If the circumstances are extreme then this kind of alimony may be ordered even if the marriage has lasted less than 7 years.
Apart from these alimony types, the court may also award a temporary alimony which supports the financially strained spouse during the pendency of the marriage dissolution process.
What is the impact of adultery on alimony determination?
Adultery committed by either spouse can a serious impact on the alimony. It may not only reduce the amount of alimony paid but the court may deem that alimony is unnecessary. Florida is a ‘no fault’ state and this complicates matters when it comes to viewing adultery as a factor in alimony cases. Some judges will view adultery as a serious matter and others appear to complete ignore the issue. In general, Florida alimony law has moved away from the consideration of adultery.
Recent news about florida alimony law
In recent times, Florida alimony law has been in the news. There is a strong lobby for alimony reform and several attempts have been made to overhaul existing alimony statutes. The main reason behind the various calls for drastic reform is that many of the prevailing laws are out of synch with the changing times. In a bid to make alimony laws more effective and more relevant to present day couples, several changes are being proposed.
The state’s permanent alimony law is the one that comes under criticism most often. Reform has been carried out in this respect earlier and the law has become more progressive. For instance, the supportive relationship law enables termination or reduction of permanent alimony if the recipient is in a new ‘supportive relationship’. Another reform has ensured that the recipient’s income can never exceed that of the paying spouse. If permanent alimony results in such a scenario, the paying spouse may be allowed to modify or discontinue the alimony payments.
In February 2013, the Florida Alimony Reform launched a legislative campaign to change the permanent alimony laws. However, Governor Rick Scott later vetoed this controversial bill. The proposal (SB 718), if approved, would have ended the permanent alimony system and made revisions to alimony payments easier on retirement. With the bill vetoed Florida continues to be a permanent alimony state unlike many others which have abolished this kind of alimony.
This is a contentious issue and there is much support for abolishment of the permanent alimony law. The Family Law Reform Group expects that a new bill will be presented during the 2014 legislative session addressing this matter. This bill may propose a more just and fair alimony payment that is more relevant for present generation couples wherein both spouses are most likely to be financially independent.
It remains to be seen whether or not dramatic changes take place in Florida alimony laws in the near future. However, there is little doubt that the lawmakers will ensure that both spouses are treated fairly when and if any such revisions are introduced.