Second to child custody matters, the payment of alimony is one of the most litigated and contested areas in a divorce case. Alimony is a form of financial support that one party pays to the other. The duration, amount, tax treatment, modification and conditions of the payments vary depending on a large number of factors. The following includes a number of basic alimony concepts with which every person entering the divorce process should be familiar.
If you have a question about alimony, contact an experienced family law attorney who can explain the law as it applies to your specific case. As the laws regarding alimony issues are complex and ever-changing, it’s important that your lawyer understands every aspect of divorce and alimony laws in Florida and how they pertain to your situation.
What Is The Standard For Awarding Alimony In Florida?
In Florida, the basic standard for awarding alimony is the following: one party’s need versus the other party’s ability to pay. Sounds simple, right? If the court determines that the first party needs alimony and the second party has the ability to pay, then it will order alimony be paid to the first party. In principle, the standard for awarding alimony is straightforward. In reality, this standard is vague and seldom applied consistently to individuals across the state or even in the same circuit. The problem arises in determining what a legitimate “need” is and what constitutes an “ability to pay”. These terms are not specifically defined in the statutes or in case law. There is also no guideline to alimony as with child support.
Such standards have long been advocated but never adopted by the legislature. Despite the prevalence of published alimony guidelines, these guidelines are not considered as precedent in the Florida Courts. In lieu of specific numerical guidelines, we provide the following legal standards for alimony that are used by the courts. However, such standards have done little to reduce litigation over alimony. Given the ambiguity in this area of the law, the best way to determine whether or not you are likely to pay or receive alimony is to speak with an experienced attorney who practices in the area where your case will be heard. Only an experienced divorce attorney can give you an accurate opinion as to the type of alimony that can be awarded in your case.
Length Of The Marriage
In order to apply the different types of alimony described below, the court will make a finding as to the length of the marriage. The length of the marriage is important as it sets the presumptions for what kind of alimony should be awarded in a given case. Florida Statute § 61.08 defines short, medium and long-term marriages by stating the following.
"For purposes of determining alimony, there is a rebuttable presumption that a short-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of less than 7 years, a moderate-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of greater than 7 years but less than 17 years, and long-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of 17 years or greater. The length of a marriage is the period of time from the date of marriage until the date of filing of an action for dissolution of marriage."
Types Of Alimony
When examining the standard for awarding alimony, it’s important to understand the types of alimony available. The following types of alimony can be awarded, depending on the facts of your particular case.
Temporary alimony paid while the case is open. The amount of this alimony can vary widely. Temporary alimony is paid from the time it is ordered or agreed upon until the case is resolved.
Permanent alimony is awarded to provide for the needs and necessities of life as they were established during the marriage of the parties for a party who lacks the financial ability to meet his or her needs and necessities of life following a dissolution of marriage. In awarding permanent alimony, the court shall include a finding that no other form of alimony is fair and reasonable under the circumstances of the parties. An award of permanent alimony terminates upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the receiving party. An award may be modified or terminated at any time there is a substantial change in circumstances.
This type of alimony is designed to assist a party by providing support to allow that party to make a transition from being married to being single. Used for legitimate identifiable short-term needs, this alimony may not exceed 2 years. An award of bridge-the-gap alimony terminates upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the receiving party. An award of bridge-the-gap alimony is not modifiable.
In divorce cases in which property is not distributed evenly, a judge may order a one-time gross or lump-sum payment to the spouse for fairness.
Rehabilitative alimony is awarded to assist a party in establishing the capacity for self-support through the redevelopment of previous skills or the acquisition of education, training, or work experience necessary to develop employment skills or credentials. In order to award rehabilitative alimony, the person requesting alimony must present a specific rehabilitative plan which must be included as a part of any order awarding rehabilitative alimony.
Florida Statute § 61.08 states “The purpose of durational alimony is to provide a party with economic assistance for a set period of time following a marriage of short or moderate duration ... ” An award of durational alimony terminates upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the party receiving alimony. While the amount of an award of durational alimony may be modified or terminated, the length of an award of durational alimony may not be modified except under exceptional circumstances. Finally, the length of the alimony may not exceed the length of the marriage.
In regard to modifiable alimony (temporary, permanent and durational — as to amount), one must have a substantial change in circumstances. This change must not have been contemplated at the time of the order setting the alimony and if one is seeking a reduction in alimony, he or she must show that the change is not temporary, but permanent.
Frequently Asked Questions About Alimony
What Is Alimony?
Alimony is a court-ordered provision that demands consistent payments from one spouse to another following divorce. There are several types of alimony. Each type of alimony is established to meet a specific goal.
How Is Spousal Support Defined?
Spousal support is a type of payment that is granted to a spouse from another to help an individual achieve or maintain financial independence during significant transitioning periods, such as during the process of divorce.
What Factors Make Alimony Necessary?
To understand how courts evaluate and determine alimony, we encourage you to visit our Gainesville divorce law firm. There are common considerations that all judges rely on during divorce that may help to determine if alimony is necessary. The following factors are among the most useful tools employed by courts.
The reasons for divorce. Courts will strongly consider the reasoning for a couple’s need for divorce. If the divorce is based on a spouse’s mistreatment, abuse or adulterous behavior, it is likely that alimony may be assigned.
Contributions during the marriage. Marriage is often described as a game of give-and-take. As such, it is natural, even expected, for spouses to contribute significant resources to the marriage and to each other. Common examples of this may include investment in a spouse’s business or education. Alimony may be assigned to reimburse an individual.
Financial and health factors of each spouse. One of the most important factors that courts consider when determining if alimony is necessary is the overall health and financial status of each spouse. They will review assets, stocks, income, property, debt, and expenditures. They will also look at each spouse’s health to determine if most of the funds are being allocated to health care needs.
Other considerations. Courts will also pay close attention to the type of work that each spouse performs, as well as the level of education that each spouse has earned. This helps the court to establish future earning capacities and determine if the spouses can survive on their own following divorce. In many instances, courts will assign alimony for the purposes of living adjustments — that is, they attempt to level the quality of living of each spouse to as close to what was experienced during the actual marriage.
What Is The Difference Between Alimony & Spousal Support?
The terms “alimony” and “spousal support” are often used interchangeably, so most people have adopted the view that alimony and spousal support are the same things. You should be aware that this is not true. Alimony is a court-ordered provision that requires an individual to make payments to an ex-spouse following divorce.
Contrarily, spousal support refers to financial assistance that is designed to help a spouse both during the marriage and during divorce proceedings. Spousal support is usually temporary and concludes once the terms and conditions of the divorce have been finalized.
What Will Happen If I Refuse To Pay Alimony?
Alimony is a court-ordered provision. So, failure to pay constitutes sanctions. It is possible for your paycheck to be decreased due to the state seizure of funds or property. It is also possible for your license to be suspended.
Will I Go To Jail If I Don’t Pay Alimony?
If you miss alimony payments consistently, jail time is certainly a possibility. What’s more, if you are consistently late on alimony payments, and if there are no extenuating circumstances that make such tardiness unavoidable, an arrest is very much possible
Will I Be Required To Pay Alimony?
You may or may not be required to pay alimony. In some cases, your spouse may request alimony. In other cases, a judge may deem that alimony is necessary. You should speak to a Florida alimony lawyer for a case evaluation. While we cannot predict with accuracy what the judge may rule, we can weigh the factors of your case to determine the likelihood of certain scenarios. This way, you will have an idea of what to expect.
Keep in mind that once a judge orders you to pay alimony, you are required to make such payments consistently and in a timely manner. Failure to do so is considered illegal and may result in consequences.
Who Determines The Type & Amount Of Alimony I Have To Pay?
Although your spouse may request a specific amount of alimony, the presiding judge decides the amount of alimony owed to a party. The judge will also determine the type of alimony that you will be required to pay based on a variety of factors pertinent to the case.
Is It Possible To Modify Alimony Payments?
Yes. It is possible to modify alimony. To do so, we recommend that you meet with our Gainesville alimony attorneys. You will need reasons for modification, as well as documentative information to support your reasoning. The receiver’s entrance into a new marriage or a significant change in income may warrant modification.
I Don’t Want To Receive Alimony. What Do I Do?
During divorce proceedings, be sure to make this known. If a judge decides to assign alimony on your behalf anyway, you should trust that the judge has a reason for doing so. It would behoove you to accept the alimony payments.
Are Alimony Payments Public?
Yes. Alimony payments are a part of public record. As such, if you are consistently late or fail to make payments altogether, these records are accessible by employers, credit agencies and even Florida citizens.