In 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.
When you think about alimony, you probably think about a court order that obliges one ex-spouse to pay the other ex-spouse a sum of money every month for a certain period of time (or permanently). The law also, however, allows the courts to hand out lump-sum awards of alimony. As with other alimony awards, the law has specific rules regarding when that type of alimony is appropriate. In one recent Second District Court of Appeal case, a lump-sum alimony award was overturned because the trial judge didn’t make the findings necessary to show that the award complied with the law.
A South Florida doctor’s wife succeeded in obtaining a reversal recently of a trial court order that awarded her only durational rather than permanent alimony. Since the couple was married for 18 years, the wife should have received permanent alimony unless the trial judge made a finding that permanent alimony was inappropriate. The Fourth District Court of Appeal‘s decision in this couple’s case was also interesting in reaffirming that simply because the state legislature created durational alimony a few years ago did not mean that its creation wiped out the legal presumption in favor of permanent alimony in cases involving long-term marriages.
In Florida, the laws regarding divorce have followed a “no-fault” system since 1971. Today, there are only two bases for obtaining a divorce: that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, or that one spouse has been declared mentally incompetent for at least three years. Before that, there were nine bases for obtaining a divorce under the old statute. One of those bases was adultery. Even though adultery is no longer a ground for divorce, a trial court in a divorce case may consider a spouse’s infidelity and, depending on the facts proven, may use that affair to alter the decisions it makes on alimony and equitable distribution. A recent Fifth District Court of Appeal case originating in Flagler County offers an example of how this works.
In Florida, if your marriage lasted 17 years or more, and you seek alimony, the law is fairly clear that a legal presumption exists that you should receive permanent alimony. There are various forms of proof that can overcome this presumption, but your young age cannot, by itself, make you ineligible for permanent alimony. In a recent South Florida case, the Fourth District Court of Appeal threw out an award of bridge-the-gap alimony because the trial court appeared to believe that the wife’s age of 42 alone made permanent alimony improper.
Going to court can be a lot like athletic or other competitions. In each situation, you want to make sure that you give yourself as many avenues for success as you possibly can. A recent alimony dispute from Palm Beach County demonstrates this well. In this case, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s decision that threw out an ex-husband’s alimony modification request. The appeals court revived the husband’s case because, regardless of whether or not the husband’s ability-to-pay argument was premature, he also presented a valid case of the wife’s reduced need for alimony, and that reduced-need argument alone was enough to allow him to continue pursuing his modification case.
The husband, L.F., and his wife, C.F., had divorced some time ago. As part of that divorce case, the wife received an award of alimony. In more recent times, the husband went back to court, asking for a modification of his alimony obligation. The husband had two arguments underlying his assertion that circumstances had changed and that the court should lower his alimony payments. First, the husband had recently retired, and this change in employment status had substantially lowered his income. Second, in the period following the couple’s divorce, the wife had come into “additional substantial and unanticipated” streams of income, which had greatly reduced the wife’s need for alimony.
A lot of divorce cases have multiple distinct but related components. Even if a couple has no minor children in the home, there may be numerous elements to a divorce case, including the distribution of assets and debts, as well as alimony. When a trial court issues an order in your divorce, the law requires the judge to make certain factual findings as part of the ruling. In one case from North Florida, the lack of some required findings led the First District Court of Appeal to grant a husband’s appeal and send the case back to the trial court.
There are many things that can play a role in the outcome of your Florida alimony case. The court must decide whether your marriage counts as a short, moderate, or long-term marriage. The judge must also determine the paying spouse’s ability to pay and the recipient spouse’s need. Another thing that can add an extra layer of complexity to your case is if the recipient spouse is disabled. In one recent case from the Tampa Bay area, the Second District Court of Appeal threw out part of a trial court’s ruling in a divorce judgment because the lower court only awarded the wife durational, rather than permanent, alimony, even though the wife was permanently disabled and could not return to work.
The couple in the case married on New Year’s Eve in 2002. Just short of a decade later, they separated. A year after that, the wife filed for divorce. In that filing, she asked for alimony. The husband, at that point, was earning $117,000 per year in gross income. The wife had a degree in psychology and had previously worked as a counselor, but she had developed several medical problems. Shortly before the divorce, an administrative law judge had determined that she was permanently disabled and could not return to work, due to fibromyalgia, traumatic brain injury, and back problems. The wife’s disability benefits, which amounted to a gross of $880 per month, were her only income.
Alimony reform in Florida is dead for at least one year after an April 15 veto of SB 668 by Governor Rick Scott. The veto represents the second time Scott has vetoed a bill that would have updated Florida’s alimony laws. While the most recent bill removed certain retroactivity provisions from the alimony reforms, which Scott cited as problematic in vetoing the previous bill, the governor again issued a veto, this time due to certain additional reforms addressing timesharing laws, which he said ran the risk of “putting the wants of a parent before the child’s best interest.”
Had it become law, the reform measure would have made several major changes in the way courts resolve divorce and child custody cases. The new law would have ended permanent alimony and would have set up alimony calculation guidelines as well. These guidelines would have assessed the amount and duration of alimony based upon each spouse’s income and the length of the marriage. The most recent bill also would have created a presumption in favor of alimony for all marriages except those lasting two years or less.
In an alimony case, one of the more important issues you may face is deciding whether or not you or your spouse is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. This issue was at the center of one South Florida man’s appeal of his divorce judgment. The man successfully persuaded the 4th District Court of Appeal to send the case back to the trial court because that lower court had imputed no income to the wife despite clear evidence that she was voluntarily underemployed.
In this case, R.M. (husband) and C.M. (wife) from Broward County had sought a divorce after 30-plus years of marriage. As part of the trial court’s judgment of dissolution in the case, that court awarded alimony to the wife. In calculating that alimony amount, the trial court imputed no income to the wife. It was on this basis that the husband appealed the alimony award.