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Articles Posted in Alimony

While marital settlement agreements (MSAs) are unique in some ways, they are also a lot like any other contract in many ways. As you progress toward a final agreement, there are several checkboxes that must be checked. Does the agreement include everything you must have? Does the agreement contain none of the terms that you consider a “deal-breaker?” If yes, then you have the framework of a potentially workable agreement. Doing this, though, means taking ultimate care because, whatever happens later, you’ll still be bound by the terms of the MSA you signed. To make sure the MSA you’re signing is an MSA that is truly fair, get the legal representation you need from the right South Florida divorce attorney.

As an illustration of what we mean, there’s the recent case of M.J. and B.J. from the Tampa Bay area. The couple divorced after 26 years of marriage. Generally, in cases decided by a judge, a marriage of 26 years qualifies as a “long-term” marriage and the spouse who receives alimony is entitled to receive permanent alimony.

This husband avoided that outcome by working out an MSA with his wife that included an alimony provision. The agreement said that the husband would pay the wife, who was 54 years old at the time of the MSA’s signing, durational alimony of $4,500 per month for eight years. The agreement also stated that the duration of the alimony could not be changed later through a modification action. The contract said nothing about the wife getting a job during those eight years.

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Family law is full of various rules, but few of them are completely black-and-white. The law recognizes that each family in a family law case is unique, and a just outcome should reflect that. That’s why having a skilled South Florida family law attorney is so important. Your experienced attorney will have that knowledge of all of family law’s nuances and gray areas that non-lawyers don’t, and know how to use them to your best advantage.

Very recently, this blog covered the issue of alimony and its relationship to the length of the marriage. That time, the wife was seeking permanent alimony after having been married for less than 13 years, or a marriage of “moderate duration.” (Florida law says marriages of seven years or less are “short term,” marriages lasting more than seven years but less than 17 years are “moderate” in duration and marriages of 17 years or more are “long term.”)

In law, including alimony law, there are “presumptions.” These are default positions that will be the final outcomes in most cases, but not in all of them. You can overcome a presumption if you have enough of the right evidence to do what’s called “rebut” the presumption.

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When you go through the divorce process and your spouse seeks alimony, you have several challenges. One of those is to avoid outcomes where your ex gets more alimony than they should, or gets it for a longer duration than Florida law says is appropriate. To help in making sure that your outcome is a fair one, get skilled legal representation from an experienced South Florida alimony attorney.

When it comes to the duration of alimony, the law has some pretty clear limitations on awarding permanent periodic alimony, which was on display in the case of B.P. and his wife, S.P. The couple married in 2003, separated in early 2014 and the husband filed for divorce in 2016. At trial, the judge concluded that the marriage was of moderate duration and that the wife was entitled to $6,912 per month in permanent periodic alimony, as that amount and duration was necessary “to maintain the standard of living to which” the wife was accustomed.

The husband successfully appealed the alimony ruling. As both the trial court and appeals court noted, B.P. and S.P.’s marriage was a “moderate-term” one under Florida law. (Florida law has created three different levels of marital duration that judges use in making alimony decisions. Those groupings are: “short-term,” which is seven years or less, “moderate-term,” which is more than seven years but less than 17 years, and “long-term,” which is 17 years or more. That duration period is measured as the period from the date of the marriage until the date of an approved filing for divorce.)

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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people in many ways, including financially. Some may be struggling to keep their homes, while others may be struggling to feed their families. Some of those who have been thrown into dire financial straits here in Florida are people who have alimony obligations. If that’s you, the worst thing you can do is sit idly by and do nothing as you fall behind on your alimony. Instead, take action right away to get in touch with an experienced South Florida family law attorney and begin taking the actions that the law lets you take.

Even as Florida has re-opened most of its businesses, problems remain. Late last month, the government once again shuttered all bars, according to a NBC Miami report. You can imagine then, if you’re the proprietor of a popular bar in Fort Lauderdale Beach (from which you derive most of your income) and you’re also a divorced spouse who owes a monthly alimony payment, the re-closure of all bars in the Sunshine State is a source of major stress for you.

The law does still give you options, though. To get your alimony payments lowered, you will have to clear several legal hurdles. The first thing you absolutely must do is prove that you have a change of circumstances. Furthermore, that change has to be both (1) substantial and (2) something that could not have been anticipated when alimony was litigated (or set via a mutual agreement.) In other words, if you’re 63 years old when you sign your alimony agreement, you may not be able to turn around at age 65 and get a downward modification of alimony based on your retirement (and the reduction in income it created.)

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We all make mistakes. For some people, that may mean putting some less-than-perfect information in a tax return. For others, that may mean using that flawed return in a divorce proceeding. Now, to be clear, you should never cheat on your income taxes and you should never provide to a court any proposed piece of evidence that is inaccurate, misleading or false. However, even when you have made mistakes in the pursuit of a divorce, there are still limits on the actions that the judge can take. An experienced Fort Lauderdale divorce attorney can help in cases like this in many ways. Your experienced attorney can help you make sure that you avoid submitting documents to the court that lack candor and, if you’ve made mistakes before you hired counsel, your attorney also can help protect you when a judge oversteps her legal authority.

As an example of how these kinds of boundaries can work, there’s the Orange County case of M.B., who was a self-employed commercial truck driver and a husband going through divorce. At his divorce trial, the husband presented numerous financial affidavits and three years of tax returns. “The tax returns — which included deductions for business expenses and for cost of goods sold — showed a significant disparity” between what the husband actually made and what he declared as his final taxable income, according to the appeals court.

At trial, the husband disclosed that his work entailed only transporting goods, and that he did not actually sell goods. That, of course, was a problem for the husband and his case. Based on this evidence, the judge decided that the husband’s tax documents did not accurately display his true income and the judge imputed income to the husband.

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Florida, like all states, has laws governing awards of spousal support (also known as alimony) following a divorce. Typically, alimony involves a monetary payment from one spouse to the other to help the less well-off spouse maintain something close to the standard of living he/she enjoyed during the marriage. Florida has many different types of alimony, so if you’re considering a divorce, whether you’re the wealthier or the less wealthy spouse, you should take the time to retain a skilled Fort Lauderdale alimony attorney to help you ensure that the alimony ordered in your case is a fair outcome.

Unfortunately, in several areas of the law, society evolves and changes faster than the law. In some ways, that’s good, as the law should be a stable and consistent thing. Other times, though, it isn’t, such as when it doesn’t keep up with important shifts in the way people live. Believing that some of Florida’s alimony laws fall into the latter category, some members of the state legislature have, once again, championed alimony reform, with HB 843 having been introduced in the legislature in December.

One of the key targets that HB 843 seek to reform is the concept of permanent alimony. Generally speaking, permanent alimony means that the recipient spouse is entitled to continue receiving payments until she dies or remarries (or, in some situations, begins cohabiting with a partner.)

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In today’s “gig” economy, fewer and fewer people are receiving incomes solely through salaried positions that pay steady earnings every week or every two weeks. Whether you’re a self-employed professional, someone who works in commissioned sales or an Uber driver, you know what it means to have an income that fluctuates.

If you’re also someone who owes alimony in Florida, you may wonder what these fluctuations mean to your alimony obligation. As a recent case highlighted, there are situations where an income change may entitle you to obtain a reduction (or even an elimination) of your alimony obligation. If you think your income changes have placed you in that position, be sure to contact an experienced Fort Lauderdale alimony attorney right away to discuss your potential case for alimony modification.

In that recent case, C.M.S. was a professional who owned her own real estate title and escrow business and also was an ex-wife who owed an alimony obligation to her ex-husband. The wife’s title business relied very heavily on one client. That client, which had been responsible for roughly 85% of the title company’s business, eventually opened its own title operation and ended its relationship with C.M.S.’s company. Additionally, real estate “short sales,” which had been a huge area of profitability for C.M.S.’s company, became massively less common as the economic recovery led to rising property values. On top of those things, new regulations significantly restricted how C.M.S. could market her business.

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An old saying proposes that “numbers never lie.” They may not, but they can be deceiving. That is one of the reasons why you should avoid jumping to conclusions in your legal case, but instead talk to an experienced Florida family law attorney. Even if some of the numbers on your and your spouse’s financial disclosures seem to be stacked firmly against you, there may be other factors and other numbers that can sway the outcome in your favor.

The case of A.L. and T.L. is an example. In 2015, T.L. filed for divorce from A.L., her husband of 36 years. In her divorce petition, the wife asked for permanent alimony in the amount of $1,000 per month.

The husband’s financial documentation indicated that he made roughly $3,000 per month after taxes, and had monthly expenses of $5,937. The court deducted $1,553 of those expenses because they related to bills that the husband was not actually paying at the time (as those bills were connected to a home that was in foreclosure.) Nevertheless, that still left the husband with $4,382 in monthly expenses, meaning he had a monthly deficit of more than $1,300.

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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.

Recently, this blog touched upon the issue of a parent receiving child support credit for expenses and what happens when the parent doesn’t actually spend that money. In child support cases, this matters because of those expenses’ impact child support guideline calculations.

In alimony, the problem is similar but somewhat different. In alimony law, the judge is tasked with setting an amount of alimony that properly reflects the recipient spouse’s need and the supporting spouse’s ability to pay. If the recipient spouse is getting credit for an expense that she’s not actually paying for, then the court’s calculation of her need is greater than what her true need really is. When that happens and you are the supporting spouse, then you need a modification of your alimony that lowers your payment. An experienced South Florida family law attorney can help in pursuing that change.

M.H. and A.M.H.’s post-marriage situation was an example of this problem. Reportedly, the couple divorced in 2003 and, at that time, worked out a marital settlement agreement, which included an award of alimony to the wife. Although the husband was in his early 50s at the time, neither that settlement agreement nor the court’s final judgment of divorce were so forward-looking as to address what would happen to the husband’s alimony obligation once he retired from working.

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