Appropriate Alimony Awards and the Length of Your Marriage

When faced with the possibility of awarding alimony, courts have a variety of options. The appropriate option may depend on various factors, including how long you were married. Whether you are the spouse paying alimony or the one receiving alimony, it is very important to understand what the law does (and does not) allow courts to do when it comes to an alimony award. Two Florida appeals court decisions from this year serve as examples of these limitations.

In a very recent decision, Diaz v. Diaz, the 3d District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of a husband’s appeal and overturned a trial court’s ruling with regard to the husband’s payment of alimony. The trial court in that case ordered the husband to pay the wife durational (temporary) alimony each month for 48 months. The flaw with this award was that the couple’s marriage had only lasted for a little more than three years (40 months.) Section 61.08(7) of the Florida Statutes says that durational alimony “may not be modified except under exceptional circumstances and may not exceed the length of the marriage.”

The wife argued unsuccessfully that the time period of temporary alimony payments can exceed the length of the marriage if she proved that exceptional circumstances existed. This was incorrect, however, since the statute was clear that the existence of exceptional circumstances only opened the door to modification of the award, not to an award lasting longer than the marriage did. The duration component of the statute contained no exceptions.

Earlier this year, in Motie v. Motie, the 5th DCA rejected a trial court’s decision for the opposite reason: the duration of the alimony award period was too short. The Moties were married for 17 years. Under the Florida statutes, that generally qualifies as a “long-term” marriage, which generally means that the recipient spouse is entitled to permanent alimony. However, the law gives trial courts the option of awarding only temporary alimony, even in cases involving long-term marriages, if there is no ongoing need for support on a permanent basis.

The appeals court rejected the husband’s argument that temporary alimony was the proper choice because the wife had the ability to earn a substantial income in the future. The husband did not present conclusive evidence to back up his assertion about the wife’s future earning potential. Under these circumstances, the trial court should have awarded permanent alimony to the wife and, if she later began earning more than expected, the husband’s proper mode of recourse was to file a motion to modify the wife’s alimony award, according to the 5th DCA ruling.

The statutes governing alimony set up some clear boundaries that trial courts’ awards cannot cross. Understanding what rights (and obligations) you have under Florida law regarding alimony can be essential to the success of your case. If your divorce case involves a potential award of alimony, it is important to retain experienced counsel familiar with the rules regarding these awards. Talk to the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our attorneys have the determination, skill, and knowledge you need to ensure that the alimony award you receive (or pay) matches what the law allows.

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

More blog posts:

Alimony Not Proper If Spouse Lacks the Ability to Pay, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 17, 2014
Marital Settlement Agreement Puts Husband on Hook for Permanent Alimony, Even After Wife Remarries, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 6, 2014

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