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Long-Term Marriages and the Presumption in Favor of Permanent Alimony in Florida

hourglassIn Florida, if your marriage lasted 17 years or more, and you seek alimony, the law is fairly clear that a legal presumption exists that you should receive permanent alimony. There are various forms of proof that can overcome this presumption, but your young age cannot, by itself, make you ineligible for permanent alimony. In a recent South Florida case, the Fourth District Court of Appeal threw out an award of bridge-the-gap alimony because the trial court appeared to believe that the wife’s age of 42 alone made permanent alimony improper.

In 2013, D.D. (husband) filed for divorce from his wife of 19 years, K.D. (wife). As part of the divorce proceeding, the wife sought alimony. The wife had been a stay-at-home mom for nearly two decades, raising the couple’s three children. At the time of the divorce, the wife was a full-time student, one year into a three-year program for surgical technicians. She had no income, while the husband made roughly $100,000 per year.

At trial, the wife did not have an attorney. After the judge obtained evidence about the spouses’ respective incomes and expenses, the judge inquired about the wife’s age, and the wife stated that she was 42. At that point, the judge decided that she had all the information she needed to address the alimony question. The wife had not submitted to the court the necessary paperwork regarding a rehabilitative alimony plan, so that removed rehabilitative alimony as an option. Given the wife’s young age, permanent alimony was not appropriate. After eliminating those forms of alimony, the judge issued an award of bridge-the-gap alimony to the wife, ordering the husband to pay $1,640 per month for two years.

The wife then hired an attorney, appealed, and won. The reason she won was a fairly simple and straightforward one. Regardless of the wife’s age, the marriage was a “long-term” one, and that created a presumption that permanent alimony was the proper solution.

Generally, appeals courts do not overturn alimony awards unless the trial judge applies the wrong legal standard, but that was what happened here. Florida law recognizes “a rebuttable presumption in favor of permanent alimony.” There are various types of proof that can overcome this presumption in favor of an award of permanent alimony in a long-term marriage case, but “neither age nor a spouse’s ability to earn some income alone rebuts the presumption.”

In other words, even if you’re 35, that fact alone will not dictate that you are not entitled to permanent alimony if your marriage was a long-term one (17+ years), and you meet all the other legal criteria. What’s more, Florida courts have concluded that, in situations like this (in which one spouse spent most of the marriage as a homemaker, and the couple had a substantial gap in incomes as a result), permanent alimony is almost always the correct form of alimony.

The trial court mistakenly “believed either that it could not award permanent alimony based solely on the former wife’s age or that the former wife’s age trumped all the other statutory factors.” Either way, it was incorrect, which required the reversal of the alimony decision.

In this case, barring some additional proof to rebut the legal presumption, she had a fairly clear claim to permanent alimony. At trial, representing herself, she lost. On appeal, represented by counsel, she won. Even though you may think that your family law case is a simple one that relies on straightforward facts, many cases are just not as simple as they might seem on the surface. A qualified Florida family law attorney not only will know the law but also will be able to take that legal knowledge and apply it to your situation to help you seek a fair outcome and receive what the law says you should. The South Florida alimony attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have many years of experience helping people deal with their alimony and other family law issues. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule a confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Regardless of Ability to Pay, Ex-Husband Allowed to Pursue Argument about Ex-Wife’s Need in Florida Alimony Dispute, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 6, 2016

Calculating the Duration of a Marriage for Purposes of Determining Alimony in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 28, 2015