Articles Posted in Alimony

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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When you are the spouse or parent who is potentially responsible for paying alimony or child support, there are a lot of financial factors that go into calculating exactly how much that obligation should be. One of the things that the law requires courts to consider is other payments that benefit your spouse and/or child. For example, if you are paying the mortgage payment on the house in which your spouse lives, that payment could be declared to be a type of spousal support. Similarly, paying 100% of your children’s private school tuition might qualify as a form of child support. These areas can be especially important when you’re in a case where you are potentially facing an order to pay retroactive support.

Two recent cases show how the process is supposed to work, and what you can do when it doesn’t. In the first, J.C.J. and M.J. were Palm Beach County parents going through divorce. At the conclusion of the divorce case, the trial judge made several rulings about alimony and child support. One of the rulings demanded that the father pay retroactive child support.

The father later appealed and won a reversal of the retroactive child support order. The reason? When the trial judge made that ruling, he didn’t factor in the mortgage payments that the father had made. The father had evidence that he had been the one who paid the mortgage payments on the home in which the child lived during the pendency of the divorce. Florida law says that a supporting parent is entitled to receive credit for “actual payments” made to the child or to the other parent. They’re also entitled to credit when making payments to third parties for the benefit of the child. That includes things like payments to lenders or landlords to cover the housing payment for the home in which the child resides. This father didn’t get that credit, which is why he was entitled to have his retroactive child support recalculated.

There are almost as many family law situations as there are families, it seems sometimes. Fortunately, lawmakers have taken efforts to address many situations, including some relatively unique ones. You may not be aware, but in Florida, there is a statute that covers what happens if you (or your children) are not receiving the support you should — and you want to get that financial support – but you do not want to pursue a divorce right away. You can seek alimony “unconnected with” divorce. Taking this step does not mean the court will enter an order of divorce; this tool is designed to allow judges to institute court-ordered support without ending the marriage. Also, be aware that you can choose, if you want, to seek court-ordered support “unconnected with dissolution” now and, if the marriage breaks down later, still seek a divorce at that later date.

This tool allows you to obtain the support you need without having to pursue divorce when the marriage isn’t necessarily irretrievably broken. What this should signify to you is that there’s probably more tools in a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney’s “tool belt” than you might have imagined, so be sure your situation has the wise legal counsel your family deserves.

Let’s look at this legal concept using a recent case. R.L. and P.L. were a married couple. The husband had executed a “power of attorney” document, which is a type of estate planning document in which you can name another person to act as your agent to carry out certain legal, financial and/or medical decision-making tasks (that you list in the document.)

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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.

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