The Florida legislature attempted to eliminate permanent alimony three times over the past ten years. However, those bills were vetoed twice by then Governor Rick Scott and once by current Governor Ron DeSantis. For better or worse, alimony is alive and well in Florida. As it stands now, alimony in Florida is governed by a law passed in 2011, which substantially overhauled the old alimony law and many court opinions arising from it.
Alimony is a support payment made from one divorced spouse to the other pursuant to a final judgment of dissolution of marriage. Alimony is available to either spouse, whether husband or wife, but not all cases will result in alimony. Although child support is determined based upon a guideline calculation, there is no prescribed formula to arrive at alimony.
While the court weighs many factors when determining alimony, the primary considerations are need and ability to pay, length of marriage, standard of living, age of the spouses, contributions of each spouse to the marriage (including homemaking and child care) and the emotional and physical health of the parties. Although adultery is listed as a statutory factor for the court to consider, courts do not find it relevant unless the adulterous spouse wasted or spent marital funds on the affair.
Pursuant to Florida’s alimony law, the spouse requesting alimony must first prove a financial need for support. This need is based upon that spouse’s reasonable and necessary monthly expenses consistent with the lifestyle established during the marriage. If the claiming spouse’s monthly expenses exceed his or her net monthly income, then the first element of the alimony claim has been met. The next step is to determine whether the other spouse has the financial ability to pay for that monthly shortfall. The court calculates whether the defending spouse’s income exceeds his or her monthly expenses to determine if there is ability to pay alimony.
Because many divorcing spouses embellish their income and expenses, the primary focus of alimony litigation is on establishing each party’s true income and expenses. It’s not uncommon for attorneys to use a forensic expert to either do a “needs analysis” on the claiming spouse or a “cash flow analysis” on the defending spouse, especially if he or she is self employed.
The amount of alimony ordered by the court is limited by both the claiming spouse’s financial needs and the defending spouse’s ability to pay. In other words, the most the claiming spouse will receive is the amount of his or her actual needs, and the defending spouse will not be ordered to pay more than he or she can afford after meeting their own reasonable expenses.
Florida alimony law defines short term marriages as less than seven years, moderate term marriages as between seven and 17 years and long term marriages as those in excess of 17 years. As a general rule, the longer the marriage, the greater the likelihood of an award of alimony.
There are several types of alimony in Florida. Bridge-the-gap alimony is granted to facilitate the transition from being married to single, but this award may not exceed two years. Rehabilitative alimony is granted to assist the needy spouse with education or training to become self-supporting. Although there is no prescribed duration, a rehabilitative alimony award must be tailored to a specific rehabilitation plan and typically lasts for one to four years. Durational alimony is granted when permanent alimony is inappropriate but a spouse needs financial support for some period of time. Durational alimony may not exceed the length of the marriage itself.
And, finally, there’s the oft contested permanent alimony. Permanent alimony is typically awarded after a long term marriage but may be awarded after a moderate term marriage if appropriate. Permanent alimony can be awarded after a short term marriage, but it is rare and there must be exceptional circumstances. Permanent doesn’t really mean permanent because it terminates when either party dies or the receiving spouse remarries.
Additionally, alimony may be modified or terminated upon a showing of a substantial change of circumstances for one or both of the parties or when the receiving party has entered into a supportive relationship. Under the supportive relationship principle, the paying spouse may move to end or reduce alimony if their former spouse is living with an unrelated adult in a marital type relationship in which financial or other support flows from either party to the other.
I’m a board certified Florida marital and family law attorney with 39 years of experience assisting divorcing spouses. If you need expert advice from a divorce attorney with substantial trial experience, you should talk with me before deciding which attorney is best for you and your case. You can email me at [email protected] or call my office at 386-257-1222.
Paul E. Rice, Jr, Esquire
Florida Board Certified Divorce and Family Law
Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Law Mediator