Calculating Alimony (or an Alimony Modification) in Florida in Cases Where the Spouses Enjoyed a Luxurious Lifestyle During the Marriage

When a court in Florida contemplates the amount of alimony a spouse will receive, the judge looks at several financial factors. One of these is the standard of living that the couple enjoyed during the marriage prior to its breakdown. If you and your spouse lived a high-end lifestyle during the marriage, then that is a factor in determining the proper amount of alimony. If sufficient funds exist, the recipient spouse should be entitled to live a lifestyle somewhat resembling the life she knew immediately prior to the marriage’s end.

As noted above, there are actually numerous factors that go into an alimony decision. To make sure you’re getting the full amount to which the law says you’re entitled, be sure you have the knowledge and experience of a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side.

When it comes to alimony in the case of a wealthy couple, P.D. and W.D.’s case was a clear illustration. The two were married for 20 years. During that time, the wife was a stay-at-home mom and the husband was a successful ophthalmologist. Following the equitable distribution in the divorce, the wife had an income of roughly $60,000 from investments, while the husband was making around $950,000 from his medical practice. The judge, based on those numbers (and each spouse’s expenses,) found that the husband had the ability to pay alimony and that the wife had a need for alimony, so the court ordered the husband to pay the wife $12,000 per month in permanent alimony.

Several years later, the husband asked the court to reduce his alimony obligation. His ability to pay was not the issue; his ophthalmology practice now brought in money than $1.2 million per year. Rather, his argument was that the wife’s need for alimony had declined substantially. The trial judge agreed, finding the wife to be less than credible in her testimony. As a result, the court dropped the husband’s alimony from $12,000 per month to just over $1,800 per month.

The wife appealed and she won. In her appeal, the wife acknowledged that some reduction in her alimony was fair, but that an 85% cut was excessive. The appeals court agreed. That court’s ruling stated that the mistake the trial court erred in assessing the wife’s need for alimony. The trial court looked at the wife’s extensive travel, including numerous trips out of state, and her paying for some travel costs (such as airfare and hotel accommodations) of her children so that they could participate in these out-of-state get-togethers, and interpreted this elaborate travel as a sign that the wife had substantial wealth at her disposal and did not need much alimony.

The problem was, however, that the trial court didn’t look at the standard of living the couple shared while they married. During the marriage, the couple owned two airplanes, multiple homes and traveled extensively. After the divorce, the wife owned no aircraft, only one home (which was more modest than her home during the marriage) and traveled extensively. In essence, the wife’s standard of living had actually become less extravagant in divorce than the one she enjoyed during the marriage, yet the trial judge “penalized” her with an 85% drop in her alimony.

Basically, the rule on alimony is that, if sufficient funds exist, alimony should allow the recipient spouse to maintain a standard of living at (or close to) that which she enjoyed during the marriage. Sometimes, that’s not possible because both spouses make too little income and have too many expenses. That, however, wasn’t the case here. The husband had incredible wealth at his disposal and a $122,000-per-year reduction in the wife’s alimony was simply too much.

Whether you’re a supporting spouse or a recipient spouse in an alimony modification dispute, it pays to have knowledgeable counsel by your side. The experienced South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. are ready to help. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation and put the power of our experienced attorneys to work for you.