Marriage equality for same-sex couples has existed in Florida for two years, ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision. The first state to recognize same-sex marriage was Massachusetts, and it did so just over a decade ago. Same-sex couples in committed relationships have existed for much longer than either of those dates, of course. Sometimes, these couples entered into agreements related to providing financial support for each other. In a recent case originating in Broward County, the courts were asked to decide whether or not two men in a decades-long relationship had also created an “oral cohabitation agreement” and, if so, if that agreement entitled one man to a large award of damages.
Divorces can often be stressful times for the spouses involved. The pain and stress, in some circumstances, may motivate some divorcing spouses to try to achieve as swift a resolution to the case as possible. While that can be an understandable motivation, it is important not to agree to just any marital settlement agreement simply to resolve your dispute. As a recent Palm Beach County case demonstrates, the terms of your marital settlement agreement can have long-lasting effects for you, even years after your divorce has been finalized.
Sometimes, there can be varying degrees of success in a court case. In certain situations, you may win a ruling that gives you your “day in court,” but that may not necessarily mean that the path you took to get to that point was the best one. In a recent South Florida case, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled that a wife should be allowed to pursue her alimony claim. Although she won that case, the procedurally flawed filing she submitted to the trial court as a pro se litigant likely played a role in causing the case to take a longer and more complicated path than it probably should have.
A pair of errors by a trial court allowed a husband to win his appeal before the Second District Court of Appeal recently. The lower court’s failure to include in its equitable distribution a loan taken out for the purpose of funding the couple’s child’s education was erroneous, as was basing the husband’s obligation on his gross, rather than net, income.
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.