A South Florida doctor’s wife succeeded in obtaining a reversal recently of a trial court order that awarded her only durational rather than permanent alimony. Since the couple was married for 18 years, the wife should have received permanent alimony unless the trial judge made a finding that permanent alimony was inappropriate. The Fourth District Court of Appeal‘s decision in this couple’s case was also interesting in reaffirming that simply because the state legislature created durational alimony a few years ago did not mean that its creation wiped out the legal presumption in favor of permanent alimony in cases involving long-term marriages.
The appeals court case involved the divorce of S.B. (husband) and J.B. (wife) from Palm Beach County. The husband filed for divorce after 18 years of marriage. The wife filed a counter-petition for divorce, in which she asserted claims for alimony and child support. When the case went to trial, the husband was earning $205,000 from his job as an anesthesiologist and the CEO of a Boca Raton pain management clinic. The wife was a stay-at-home mother who had not worked outside the home in more than two decades.
The centerpiece of this divorce case was the alimony issue. The husband hired an expert who opined that, with some time and additional training, the wife could secure a teaching position paying $39,000 per year. In the near term, she could obtain a retail sales or clerical job paying between $8 and $10 per hour. Ultimately, the court imputed an income of $18,200 per year, or a little more than $1,500 per month, but it also made a finding that she reasonably could be earning $39,000 annually within two years. The trial judge found that the wife had monthly needs of $6,000 and ordered the husband to pay $4,500 in alimony per month for 10 years.
The wife appealed the alimony award, and the appeals court agreed with the wife, reversing the alimony ruling. The case came down to the length of the marriage and the legal presumptions that flow from that fact. In this case, their marriage lasted for 18 years. Florida law defines marriages lasting for 17 years or more as “long-term.” If a spouse who was in a long-term marriage is adjudged to be entitled to alimony, the law creates a presumption that the proper form of alimony is permanent alimony. A court may award something other than permanent alimony to a spouse in a long-term marriage, but only after the court makes specific findings in its order that indicate why the presumption was rebutted in that case.
The wife in this case was entitled to the legal presumption in favor of her receiving permanent alimony. There was nothing in the trial court’s order that was sufficient to rebut this presumption. In order to rebut this presumption, the law requires a trial judge to make clear statements in the order indicating that permanent alimony was inappropriate, but there were no such findings in the case.
One additional useful “takeaway” from this case was the court’s response to an argument by the husband asserting that, when the Florida legislature created durational alimony in 2010, the creation of that new form of alimony wiped out the legal presumption in favor of permanent alimony. However, the Fourth DCA and three other Florida appeals courts in separate cases in which parties advanced this same argument each concluded that the presumption in favor of permanent alimony in cases involving long-term marriages survived the statutory creation of durational alimony intact.
In your alimony case, an experienced attorney can help you ensure that the outcome of your case is a fair and just resolution in accordance with the law. The knowledgeable South Florida alimony attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have spent many years helping clients deal with their alimony and other family law issues, and we are here to help you with yours. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Long-Term Marriages and the Presumption in Favor of Permanent Alimony in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Aug. 4, 2016
Governor’s Veto Kills Florida Alimony Reform Bill, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 18, 2016