The payment of alimony is one of the most litigated and contested areas in a divorce case, second only to child custody (time sharing) matters. 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 that could never be adequately explained in this article. While we can’t answer all questions on alimony here, we do discuss some basic concepts with which every person entering the divorce process should be familiar.
What is the Standard for Awarding Alimony?
The basic standard that you will hear articulated when discussing alimony is the following: one party’s need versus the other party’s ability to pay. Sounds simple, right? If the court determines someone needs alimony and the other person has the ability to pay alimony, then it will order alimony. In principle, it is pretty straight forward. In reality, this standard is incredibly vague and not applied consistently 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 alimony” as there is with child support. Such standards have long been advocated but never adopted by the legislature. Many organizations such as the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyer have published alimony guidelines but these guidelines are not controlling in a Florida Court. In lieu of specific numerical guidelines, there are some legal standards for alimony, described below, 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 to an experienced attorney who practices in the area where your case will be heard. Only an experienced attorney can give you a reasonably accurate opinion as to what kind of alimony can be awarded in your case.
Types of Alimony
When examining the standard for awarding alimony, it is 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 - this is 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.
- Durational Alimony - As explained by the applicable statute: “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.
- Bridge The Gap Alimony - This 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 party receiving alimony. An award of bridge-the-gap alimony is not modifiable.
- Permanent Alimony - This 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 party receiving alimony. An award may be modified or terminated at any time there is a substantial change in circumstances.
- Rehabilitative Alimony - This alimony is awarded to assist a party in establishing the capacity for self-support through 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.
Length of the Marriage
In order to apply the above described alimony, 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. Here is the applicable statute which defines short, medium and long term marriages:
"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."
Modification of Alimony
For those types of alimony that can be modified (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.
Get Experienced Help
If you have a question about alimony, you should absolutely contact an experienced family law attorney who can explain the law as it applies to your specific case. The law regarding alimony issues is so complicated and ever-changing; you should never rely on your own research or even an inexperienced attorney. Call one of our experienced family law attorneys today.