Articles Posted in Alimony

Marital settlement agreements (MSAs) can be wonderfully helpful tools for some divorcing couples in reducing the amount of time, stress and acrimony that can sometimes be involved in litigating issues before a judge. The key to resolving your issues by agreement, though, is to be sure that you fully understand everything in your agreement and that the agreement is a fair resolution. To aid in those goals, as well as all the other ones related to your case, be sure you have reliable South Florida family law counsel on your side.

For an example of how a seemingly straightforward MSA can eventually lead to considerable litigation, there’s the recent case of H.W. and D.W. As a bit of background, H.W. and D.W. had been married for 17+ years when they divorced in 2008. That meant that, under Florida law, theirs was a “long-term” marriage, which could potentially impact certain divorce-related things like alimony.

The couple, however, resolved alimony (among other things) through an MSA. The spouses signed not only an MSA, but also an addendum to that agreement. The documents required the husband to make monthly alimony payments to the wife of 30% of his income or $2,000, which ever was more. The agreement also required him to keep paying until she died, remarried or entered into a cohabitative relationship.

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The law is full of multisyllabic words that sound almost like a foreign language to most any lay person. However, within all of that “legalese” can sometimes be found some rules or standards of law that can make all the difference between success and failure in your case. Family law is no exception. While there’s no reason why you, as a lay person, should know what a “rebuttable presumption” is, it is something that can make all the difference between receiving an award of permanent alimony and receiving an award of alimony that lasts only a few years. All of this just goes to show that your family law case needs the skill and knowledge of an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

As an example, take the case of E.G. and R.G. The pair had been together for what Florida law defines as a “long-term” marriage. In Florida, a marriage of less than 7 years is deemed to be a “short-term” marriage, 7-17 years is a medium-term marriage and more than 17 years is long-term. These distinctions can matter a great deal when it comes to divorce issues like alimony. For example, if your marriage meets Florida law’s definition of a long-term marriage, and you are the spouse entitled to receive alimony, then the law says that there is a “rebuttable presumption” that you are entitled to permanent alimony.

So, what does that “rebuttable presumption” language mean? Unlike most situations (where a contested topic is considered not proven until one party presents sufficient evidence to prove it), a topic that is the subject of a rebuttable presumption is considered to be true until the opposing party proves that it isn’t.

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For many couples, an uncontested divorce, or at least reaching mutual agreement on some of your issues, can be a very helpful and important part of the divorce process. The more matters upon which you agree, the fewer things  you will have to litigate in front of the judge. This can save time and money and possibly reduce acrimony. When you resolve an issue or issues by agreement, though, it is very important to be careful you understand how that agreement is structured. Even just minute inclusions or exclusions in your agreement can massively alter the impact on you in the long run. This is one of many reasons why you should consult an experienced South Florida family law attorney before signing off on any agreement.

For an example of what we mean, look at the divorce case of D.I., a husband from the Tampa Bay area. D.I. and his wife reached an agreement on the issue of alimony. The terms of that agreement were eventually included in the couple’s stipulated divorce decree. The decree stated that the husband owed the wife $800 per month in alimony and that the alimony obligation was to continue for the remainder of the wife’s life.

There was no “or until the wife remarries” wording or “until the wife remarries or enters a supportive relationship” language. The decree contained no wording at all that allowed for termination of the husband’s alimony obligation other than at her death.

A few years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case involving an ex-wife, a surviving widow and a deceased man’s life insurance proceeds. The man had named the ex-wife as his beneficiary while they were still married, and then never changed that designation. The widow argued that she should get the money because she was the surviving spouse. The ex-wife argued that the money was hers because the law required honoring the designation attached to the policy. The court ruled for the ex-wife, because the law allows for disregarding beneficiary designations only in rare circumstances, and this was not one of those.

What does all this mean if you are named as the beneficiary of your ex-spouse’s life insurance policy as part of your divorce settlement? If your ex-spouse subsequently creates a new beneficiary designation without your knowledge that names someone new after your divorce is finalized, will the law honor that changed designation and will you lose that insurance money when your ex-spouse dies? As a recent case originating in the Orlando area demonstrates, the answer is no. As always, to find out exactly how the law applies to your specific circumstances, be sure to consult a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney.

D.P., a physician, was married to R.P. for 25 years, divorcing in 2006. The divorce agreement required the husband to pay the wife $6,000 per month in alimony. As is not uncommon in alimony award situations, especially larger ones, the court ordered the husband to obtain a life insurance policy to secure the alimony award and to name R.P. as the policy’s death beneficiary. Without R.P.’s knowledge, the husband changed the beneficiary designation in 2011 to name Melinda (the woman who would become his third wife in 2013) as the beneficiary. R.P. knew nothing about this change until after D.P. died.

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For many couples, the creation of mutual agreements can be a useful and healthy way to resolve some or all of the issues outstanding in a divorce. However, even the most well thought out settlement agreements can be undone, in whole or in part, by the intrusion of unexpected life-changing events. When that happens, one spouse may need to ask the court for an order modifying an obligation like alimony, and to make that modification retroactive. To ensure a truly equitable outcome, it is important to get that date of retroactivity right. To make sure your alimony outcome is a just one, you should be sure you have a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side.

One couple facing this issue of retroactive modification of alimony was J.N. and C.N. The Palm Beach County couple worked out a marital settlement agreement that, among other things, said that the husband would pay the wife alimony of $2,750 per month in years one and two, and then gradually decline to $1,000 per month in year eight.

Two months after the spouses reached this agreement, in January 2016, the husband encountered an allegedly unexpected surprise: he lost his job. He went back to court and asked the judge reduce the amount of his alimony based upon this change. At that time, the court had not entered a final order of dissolution, which was not entered until nine months later. A month after the judge entered the order, in November 2016, the husband filed an amended motion, again asking for a reduction in alimony.

If you need a modification in the alimony you’re receiving, your case requires more than proof that you need more support and that your former spouse can afford to pay more in support. You need evidence that a substantial change in circumstances has taken place. That can be a key stumbling block for some litigants’ alimony modification cases because without the right kind of proof to establish this change, a judge cannot give you the modification you seek. To make sure you have the evidence required to get the support you need, be sure to put a knowledgeable South Florida family law on your side.

In seeking a modification of alimony, it may make good sense to provide the court with multiple possible changes in circumstances. Here’s an example: S.M. was a former wife from the Tampa Bay area who went to court seeking a modification of her alimony. The amount of alimony had originally been set in a “nominal alimony award” contained within the final judgment of dissolution in the couple’s case.

In S.M.’s situation, she had been receiving support from her daughter and her sister, but those two women ceased being able to continue that support. Those women’s inability to continue supporting her was a substantial change in circumstances, she argued. The ex-wife argued that there were additional changes, as well. Her insurance costs had gone up following the divorce. She possibly owed her sister certain sums for various expenses, and the ex-husband had begun negotiating with lenders on the property where the ex-wife was residing, which forced her to rent a new place to live.

When a court faces a question about the calculation of an alimony obligation, it generally looks at the requesting spouse’s need and the other spouse’s ability to pay. In many situations, that may involve just looking at the income and the expenses of each spouse. There are situations, though, where a court may be legally obliged to consider more than just the respective incomes of the two spouses. One circumstance where that’s the case occurs when one spouse is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily underemployed. If you are involved in a case that includes issues of alimony and/or child support and your spouse is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, then be sure you have the skill of an experienced South Florida family law attorney on your side.

J.M. and T.M.’s divorce case was one where alimony was one of the key issues in dispute. In the case, the husband sought to have income imputed to the wife. Intentionally avoiding work, or avoiding working at an income level commensurate with your education and professional experience, can have the impact of skewing the calculation of the proper amount of alimony. When the court decides that this “voluntary unemployment” or “voluntary underemployment” has happened, then the law allows the judge to do what’s called “imputing income” to the spouse who is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed.

In that process, the judge determines how much the voluntarily underemployed or unemployed spouse would be making if he/she were earning up to his/her reasonable capabilities, and then makes a determination about alimony based on that figure, not the spouse’s actual income. This is true whether the allegedly voluntarily underemployed or unemployed spouse is the one seeking alimony or is the one who may be ordered to pay alimony.

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When it comes to alimony, the law recognizes that the goal of the award is to provide needed support for the recipient spouse. To further that objective, a court may order the payor spouse to go out and purchase a life insurance policy that will, in the event of the payor’s untimely death, allow the recipient spouse to obtain the equivalent of the alimony ordered in the divorce. If you are the spouse whom a judge has ordered to pay alimony (and make the purchase of life insurance), it is useful to bear in mind that the law requires the court to make certain specific findings of fact about your situation and, if the judge doesn’t, you may be able to get the order commanding purchase of insurance reversed. Whether you are the spouse ordered to buy insurance or you are the alimony recipient, it is wise to have the representation of an experienced Florida family law attorney to protect you interests and needs..

A divorce from the panhandle county of Okaloosa, which ended up going all the way to the First District Court of Appeal, was a case where life insurance was a contested issue. The trial judge ordered the husband to pay child support and also to pay $1,500 per month in alimony. The alimony was durational for a period of four years. The court also ordered the husband to purchase a life insurance policy to act as security for the child support and alimony obligations.

In order for a spouse/parent to be required by law to purchase life insurance, there are certain procedural steps that the court must complete. For one thing, the law requires that the judge must make specific factual findings about the supporting spouse/parent’s ability to pay and the recipient spouse/parent’s need, just as the law requires for an award of alimony generally.

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The issue of alimony can be a difficult and contentious one in some divorces. That can be especially true if the former spouse who is now seeking an alimony award is already living with someone new. In spite of all the emotional difficulty that such issues and relationships can create, it is important to understand that not all relationships will impact the calculation of alimony. Whether you are seeking alimony or opposing payment of alimony, make sure you have an experienced Florida family law attorney on your side.

This type of complex set of relationship dynamics was in play in a recent case from Osceola County. The husband and wife were married for 20 years before the couple separated. During the marriage, the wife typically earned less than $15,000 per year working customer service jobs on nights and weekends, so that she could be at home with the couple’s children. The wife had a college degree and a teaching certification, but that certification was no longer valid. She suffered from many medical maladies, including hearing loss, permanent arthritis and several herniated discs in her back. The husband, on the other hand, made in excess of $70,000 per year as the regional branch manager of a library.

After separating, the wife moved into a home that she shared with her boyfriend. That fact factored into the outcome of the wife’s alimony request. The trial court determined that the wife had a need for alimony and the husband had an ability to pay alimony, but the court still awarded no alimony. The reason? The “wife has changed the nature of the request for

An old joke among law students and lawyers theorizes that students enter law school because they are not good at math. If they were, so the joke goes, they’d bypass law school in favor of medical school or engineering. The reality, however, is obviously very different. Many lawyers are very adept at math, which is important because many areas of the law, including family law, can involve extensive math skills. Many times, success in your alimony or child support case can involve having a Florida alimony attorney who has extensive knowledge of the rules and recognizes when the math “just doesn’t add up.”

One example of a case in which the alimony math “didn’t add up,” and the wife secured a favorable judgment on appeal as a result, was the divorce of Danny and Gina. The couple divorced after 14 years of marriage, and their divorce judgment required Danny to pay Gina durational alimony in the amount of $3,800 for eight years. Gina appealed the trial court’s order, contending that the amount of alimony the trial court awarded was too low. Specifically, the wife argued that the trial judge calculated the amount of alimony she should receive incorrectly because the judge failed to take into account the tax consequences of the alimony award.

The appeals court sided with the wife on this point. The evidence presented to the trial judge showed that the wife had a monthly financial need of just over $5,600 per month. Based on the wife’s work history, the trial judge imputed income to the wife in an amount just under $2,100 per month. Using these numbers, the court arrived at the $3,800 monthly obligation amount.

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