Alimony is one of the most contested issues in a divorce proceeding. Next to custody, it’s the second most litigated issue in a Florida divorce case. The laws in Florida regarding alimony have changed significantly over the past several years. The experienced family lawyers at the Rice & Rose Law Firm are intimately familiar with the current developments regarding Florida’s alimony laws and court opinions.
Alimony is a support payment made from one spouse to another based upon factors outlined in Florida Statute § 61.08. It is available to either spouse, whether husband or wife, but not all cases will result in an alimony award. The most significant factors which a court considers are the length of the marriage and the financial ability and needs of the respective spouses. When it comes to alimony awards, the family court judge is given great discretion. If the court determines there is a basis for an alimony award, then it must determine both the duration (how long) and amount (how much) of the award. Unlike child support, there is no statutory formula to determine the amount of alimony. The court determines alimony on a case by case basis utilizing the alimony statute factors. Typically, alimony payments are deductible by the payor spouse and taxable to the receiving spouse for federal income tax purposes.
Florida Statute § 61.08 states that a short term marriage is less than 7 years, a moderate term marriage is between 7 and 17 years and a long term marriage is 17 years or more. Alimony laws in Florida are complex in that there are several types of alimony which are, essentially, a function of the length of the marriage and respective financial positions of the spouses. Other factors, as discussed below, also determine the type of alimony the court can award.
The different types of alimony in Florida are:
Bridge-the-gap alimony may be awarded to facilitate the transition from being married to being single and is intended to help a spouse with specific short-term needs. This type of alimony may not exceed 2 years, and neither the amount nor the duration of the award can be modified. We refer to this as “soft landing” alimony.
Rehabilitative alimony is awarded to assist a spouse in obtaining training and/or education to secure employment to support himself or herself. Payments are awarded as long as reasonably necessary to rehabilitate the spouse. This type of support may be modified if the receiving spouse is unable to rehabilitate himself or herself or it may be terminated if the receiving spouse is not making a good faith effort.
Durational alimony may be awarded when permanent periodic alimony is inappropriate but a spouse needs financial assistance for a set period of time following a marriage of short of moderate duration. The amount of durational alimony can be modified or terminated based on a substantial change of circumstances. However, the length of an award of durational alimony may not be modified except under exceptional circumstances and may not under any circumstances exceed the length of the marriage.
Permanent Alimony may be awarded to provide for the needs and necessities of life as they were established during the marriage for a party who lacks the financial ability to meet his or her needs. Permanent alimony is typically paid monthly and terminates upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the receiving spouse. It is most often awarded in cases following a long term marriage, but can also be awarded after a shorter term marriage under exceptional circumstances such as when the other spouse is older, ill, or otherwise incapacitated and unable to be rehabilitated. This award can be modified based upon a substantial change in circumstances of either party or upon proving that the receiving spouse is in a supportive relationship.
Under the latest version of the Florida Statute § 61.08, the court must first determine whether either spouse has a need for financial support. Only after financial need has been demonstrated will the court consider whether the other party has the ability to pay. If the court finds that one party has the need and the other party has the ability to pay, then the court will consider all relevant factors to determine the appropriate type and proper amount of alimony, including:
- The standard of living enjoyed during the marriage.
- The length of the marriage.
- The age and emotional and physical conditions of the spouses.
- The financial resources of each party, including the non-marital and marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.
- The earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties and, when applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable such party to find appropriate employment.
- The contributions of each party to the marriage, including, but not limited to, services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party.
- The responsibilities each party will have with regard to any minor children they have in common.
- The tax treatment and consequences to both parties of any alimony award, including the designation of all or a portion of the payment as a nontaxable, nondeductible payment.
- All sources of income available to either party, including income available to either party through investments of any asset held by that party.
- Any other factor necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.
The length of the support obligation can vary and depends on the facts of the particular case and on the type of alimony awarded. While some forms of alimony may not be modified, many alimony awards are modifiable based on a substantial change in circumstances. If, for example, a spouse receiving alimony is residing with an unrelated person, who is providing support to or receiving support from the receiving spouse, then the court may modify or terminate the alimony award. Florida Statute § 61.14 provides a list of criteria that the court must consider in determining whether such a “supportive relationship” exists under Florida law.
If you are concerned about either paying or receiving alimony in your divorce, it is important to engage the services of an experienced and qualified divorce attorney. The family law attorneys of the Rice Law Firm will examine the specific facts of your case to determine whether you are a candidate to receive alimony or are faced with prospect of paying it. We will work to either maximize or minimize your payment depending on whether you are the paying or receiving spouse.