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Calculating the Duration of a Marriage for Purposes of Determining Alimony in Florida

hourglassA Central Florida wife will receive a second chance to make her case for an award of alimony, thanks to a recent decision issued by the 5th District Court of Appeal. The appeals court threw out an Osceola County trial court ruling that had given the wife zero alimony. One of the key errors that led to this reversal was the trial court’s conclusion that the couple’s marriage was one of “moderate” duration, despite the fact that the spouses had been married for more than 17 years when the husband filed for divorce.

In this case, Mr. J.Q. (husband) filed for divorce from his wife, Ms. J.Q. (wife), shortly after the couple’s 17th wedding anniversary. The couple’s divorce trial, though, did not take place until six years later. When the trial court issued its ruling, the judge stated that, taking into consideration each spouse’s relative income along with the fact that the couple’s was a marriage of moderate duration, the wife was not entitled to receive alimony.

The wife appealed that ruling, and she won. One of the main reasons why she was successful on appeal was the trial judge’s error in declaring the marriage to be one of moderate duration. This was key because, in Florida, alimony is set according to statutory guidelines, and the Florida Statutes have specific definitions regarding what constitutes a marriage of short, moderate, or long duration. Generally, marriages lasting less than seven years are considered to be short-term marriages. Marriages lasting 17 years or longer are generally deemed to be “long-term.” Anything in between is generally declared to a marriage of moderate duration.

Why is this length-of-marriage factor so important? That’s because Florida law also states that, with marriages that qualify as long-term ones, the presumption is that permanent alimony should be awarded. The spouse opposing an award of alimony can attempt to persuade the court that awarding alimony is not appropriate, but overcoming this presumption is difficult. “Individual factors like age and income, standing alone, will not rebut the presumption. Permanent alimony is ‘awarded to provide for the needs and necessities of life… for a party who lacks the financial ability to meet his or her needs and necessities of life following a dissolution of marriage,’” the court explained.

In the future, the outcome for divorcing couples in situations like that of this couple might be different. Some alimony reform bills that the Florida Legislature is currently considering would change the marriage duration definitions. Only marriages of 20 years or longer would qualify as “long-term,” which would have excluded the couple’s marriage. (Even though the couple had been married 23 years by the time the divorce was finalized, Florida law measures the length of the marriage from the day the couple married until the day that one of the spouses files for divorce, which was 17 years in this case.) Also, some bills under consideration would curtail or do away with permanent alimony, even in cases of long-term marriages.

Whether you are fighting to obtain alimony or to block an award of alimony, it is important to have experienced Florida family law counsel assisting you with your case. The South Florida alimony attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have extensive experience representing spouses on both sides of this issue, and we are very well-versed in this aspect of the law. Contact our knowledgeable, hardworking attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule a confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Long-Term Marriages and Permanent Alimony in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 26, 2015

Appropriate Alimony Awards and the Length of Your Marriage, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 10, 2014

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