Appeals Court Reverses Lower Court’s Refusal to Award Wife Permanent Alimony

Deciding the appropriate amount of retroactive support a spouse should receive can be somewhat complex in cases where the couple continues to live together during at least part of the divorce process. In one such recent case involving a veterinarian and his wife, the 5th District Court of Appeal decided that the couple’s long-term marriage entitled the wife to permanent alimony and that the husband should not be allowed to claim the mortgage and household bills he paid during the separation as support to his wife.

This couple divorced after more than 17 years of marriage. The couple continued to live together for part of the period when the divorce was pending, and the husband gave the wife $6,000 per month for support and payment of certain household bills, including the mortgage. The trial court ordered the husband, a veterinarian, to pay durational (temporary) alimony of $3,500 per month for eight years. The court also decided that the husband owed the wife no retroactive alimony.

The wife contested these determinations on appeal. The 5th DCA sided with the wife, ruling that the trial court should have awarded permanent, not temporary, alimony. Florida law requires a trial court to consider primarily what the needs of the spouse seeking alimony are, and the other spouse’s ability to pay. Additionally, the law’s default position is that permanent alimony is the appropriate remedy in cases involving long-term marriages, which the statute defines as ones lasting 17 years or more.

The trial court correctly assessed the wife’s financial need at $3,765 per month, but erred by not making the alimony award permanent. Given the length of the marriage and the couple’s circumstances, the “default option” should have been permanent alimony, and altering that option should have required significant reasons why a change was warranted. The trial court’s sparse findings, namely that “actions of the parties, their credibility, their age, their expected ability to produce a fruitful income and the remaining considerations” did not justify permanent alimony, were not enough to over the presumption that permanent alimony was the appropriate choice. The 5th DCA also stated a long list of very similar previous cases where, in each instance, permanent alimony had been the proper outcome.

The trial court also mishandled its calculations regarding retroactive alimony. Because the husband was the primary earner in the family, he had been responsible for paying the mortgage and certain other household bills during the marriage. Giving the husband credit for the full $6,000 per month that he paid during part of the couple’s separation, including the mortgage paymenton the house in which he was living, amounted to giving him double-credit by allowing the husband to pay bills he would have owed anyway and, at the same time, claim those payments as support paid to his wife.

Deciding on an appropriate amount of alimony often requires a true spirit of cooperation between divorcing spouses. In cases where you and your spouse do not agree, it often requires the services of a skilled attorney who knows the laws regarding alimony to ensure you receive the full amount you deserve. For help with your alimony claim within your divorce, reach out to the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. They can help guide you through the process, and provide the strong representation you need to get your proper outcome.

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

More Blog Posts:

Husband’s Use of Trusts to Hold Assets Fails to Prevent Wife From Collecting Alimony, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 21, 2014
Ex-Wife’s Cohabitation Arrangement Warrants Reduction in Alimony, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 13, 2013