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‘Extenuating Circumstances’ and Automatic Future Increases in Your Alimony Obligation in Florida

CalendarIn an alimony case, the law gives trial judges a certain amount of discretion in how they structure an obligor spouse’s alimony payments. Even with this discretion, there are limits. For example, an alimony award should not automatically increase at some future date unless there are specific extenuating circumstances that warrant structuring the alimony obligation in that way. In the case of one Broward County couple, the husband’s alimony obligation, which automatically increased by 140% upon the couple’s child’s graduation from high school, was reversed by the Fourth District Court of Appeal because the trial court in the case listed no extenuating circumstances in its order.

In this divorce case, the wife sought alimony and child support. During the hearing, evidence was introduced indicating that the wife was qualified to work as a certified nurse, an EKG technician, and a phlebotomist. Despite these credentials, she worked at a job outside all of these fields, making $35,000 per year. The husband made an annual income of $65,000.

At the end of the hearing, the trial court ordered the husband to pay the wife child support and permanent alimony. Initially, the husband’s alimony obligation was $500 per month. However, once the couple’s child graduated from high school, and the man’s $700 per month child support obligation ended, the husband’s alimony obligation automatically increased to $1,200 per month.

The husband appealed, and he won. The trial court’s ruling had several problems that required reversal. The first problem related to how the trial court calculated alimony. Specifically, the problem in this aspect was what wasn’t in the order. When a trial court orders you to pay alimony, the law says that the judge must consider a list of 10 factors and must make findings of fact that relate to how those factors indicate that an award of alimony is proper.

One of these 10 statutory factors is the “earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties.” In this couple’s case, the wife had the required credentials to pursue employment in several specialized and potentially lucrative fields. Instead, however, she worked at a job outside these fields, making a very modest income. Despite this evidence, there was nothing in the order about the spouses’ “earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability.” That alone was enough for reversal.

That problem wasn’t the only one. The automatic increase in the man’s alimony obligation also was an error. In most circumstances, “it is error to provide for an automatic, future change or termination of alimony based upon the anticipated occurrence of a future event.” There can be situations in which a future event can trigger an automatic change in alimony; however, a child’s reaching the age of 18 isn’t one of them unless the trial court makes “findings as to ‘extenuating circumstances that would support the automatic increase in alimony.'” In this case, the trial court order made no mention of extenuating circumstances, so the automatic increase of this husband’s alimony was not sustainable.

When you are involved in an alimony case, you need experienced counsel on your side to ensure you seek a fair outcome. The South Florida alimony attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have handled alimony cases for many years and are prepared to put our resources and skills to work for you. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Florida Wife’s 18-Year Marriage Entitled Her to a Presumption in Favor of Receiving Permanent Alimony, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 19, 2016

Florida Court’s Failure to Explain How It Chose Dollar Amounts Leads Appeals Court to Throw Out Divorce Order, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 21, 2016

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