Under Florida law, an ex-spouse can request a legal modification of alimony. In a recent case, a couple had divorced after 28 years of marriage. On an appeal of the divorce judgment, the court reduced the husband’s alimony payments. In 2010, about a decade after the divorce, the former husband filed a petition requesting a reduction or termination of the payments, which were then $6,000 per month.
He argued that an order requiring him to pay permanent periodic alimony payments should be modified because (1) his financial circumstances had changed significantly and (2) his former wife was in a relationship with someone supportive. The former wife denied the material facts underlying the petition.
A general magistrate made a recommended order, finding a substantial change of circumstances since the husband’s income had been reduced. In his findings, he noted that he did not think this change was contemplated at the time of divorce and that the former wife was in a committed relationship. He recommended the alimony payments be reduced significantly, down to $1,294.06 per month.
The former spouses filed exceptions to the magistrate’s recommended order. The circuit court denied the exceptions and approved the recommended order. Both eventually appealed.
The appellate court found merit in the wife’s arguments. She argued that there were income tax consequences to the reduced alimony award. She also argued that the court had failed to look at her investment income. The court agreed to hear the appeal.
On appeal, the wife argued that the magistrate should have looked at several items on a “Chart of Lifestyle Expenditures,” including income tax. The magistrate found her need was $5,330.19, excluding income tax. The wife’s investments and retirement accounts gave her $4,036.13. The magistrate subtracted the latter from the former to figure out how much she needed in alimony payments that she would not get from her other accounts. However, in so doing, the magistrate didn’t look at how much alimony the wife would need to pay income tax liabilities associated with her investment and retirement incomes.
The appellate court explained that in determining alimony, a court should look at the tax treatment and consequences to both parties of an alimony award.
The wife also argued that outdated information was used to calculate the wife’s investment income. Specifically, her investment accounts had dropped in value and the court had not considered the updated information on its actual value. The appellate court agreed with the former wife that the magistrate should have considered her current investment income in her exceptions.
The magistrate’s failure to consider her expenses led to it awarding the former wife a substantially smaller amount of alimony than was necessary to meet the needs it acknowledged she had. It reversed the lower court’s decision and asked the court to reconsider such that the former husband would have to pay an alimony sufficient to meet the former wife’s needs.
The South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. are dedicated to professional, knowledgeable, passionate advocacy for those in the Fort Lauderdale and Miami-Dade area achieve their Family Law goals. Whether you are experiencing or expecting a divorce or would like to review your current spousal support order, do not hesitate to contact us today. Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
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