Alimony That Requires Wife to Dip into Assets to Pay Monthly Expenses is Too Low, Appeals Court Says

Alimony can serve as an important lifeline, especially for divorcing spouses who subsist on fixed incomes. A recent 5th District Court of Appeal ruling highlights the basic concept of alimony law in Florida, saying that alimony must be large enough to allow the recipient spouse to meet her living expenses without having to spend her assets just to pay her monthly bills. In the 5th DCA’s recent decision, it sent a divorce case back to the trial court after deciding that the alimony imposed on the husband would not be enough to meet the wife’s monthly expenses.

The divorce in question regarded the 12-year marriage of a Florida couple. The couple achieved a partial settlement agreement of their financial affairs through mediation. The agreement called for the husband to refinance the marital residence and give the wife $4,000 from the proceeds of that transaction.

On the matter of alimony, the couple could not agree. The wife put forth evidence to the trial court that she was disabled and unable to work, and that she received $1,189 per month in disability payments as her sole source of income. She also testified that, in order to secure a home comparable to the marital residence, she would have to pay approximately $850 per month. The trial judge ultimately awarded the wife bridge-the-gap alimony of $300 a month for two years. The judge, in arriving at these numbers, expressly factored in the $4,000 the wife would receive from the refinance transaction.

The wife appealed. The appeals court agreed that the trial court improperly factored the equitable distribution payment from the refinance transaction into the alimony decision. Given that the wife’s monthly income was less than $1,200 per month, with roughly 70% of that amount presumably going to cover housing costs, the alimony amount established by the trial seemed inadequate to meet the wife’s monthly living expenses. This would mean that the wife would have spend some of her assets in order to pay her monthly expenses.

This was, however, not consistent with what Florida law demands regarding equitable distributions. “Florida law has consistently held that, while equitable distribution can have an influence on alimony, a former spouse is not required to deplete her assets to provide for her living expenses,” the appeals court stated in its ruling.

The court, in siding with the wife, cited to another decision from earlier this year that reaffirmed this same point. In that divorce case, the appeals court ordered the trial court to engage in additional fact-finding about the wife’s “current living expenses and whether her current income is capable of meeting those expenses.” The appeals court in the there┬áreminded the trial court that the wife was “not required to liquidate and deplete her assets to provide for her living expenses.” Instead, the main criteria for setting alimony was the wife’s need for alimony and the husband’s ability to pay.

Imposition of alimony can substantially alter the financial fortunes of both the recipient spouse and the spouse making those monthly payments. An unfair amount can greatly harm the recipient, if alimony is too little, or the paying spouse, if it is too much. To help you fight for an appropriate outcome regarding equitable distribution and alimony, consult the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A.. Our attorneys can help you work toward achieving a fair result.

Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Wife’s Cohabitation Not a Basis for Modification Due to Alimony Agreement’s Narrow Language, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 19, 2014
Appeals Court Reverses Lower Court’s Refusal to Award Wife Permanent Alimony, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb. 26, 2014

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