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.
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.
One of the more frustrating turns of events for individuals ordered to pay alimony is the discovery that the ex-spouse to whom they are making support payments has moved in with a boyfriend or girlfriend. In some situations, your ex-spouse’s decision to cohabitate with another person may be valid grounds for modifying or terminating your alimony payments. Whether you succeed in obtaining a modification or termination of your obligation depends largely on the facts of your ex-spouse’s new relationship and, in some cases, which terms you put in your marital settlement agreement. As a recent Central Florida case illustrates, even if you succeed, it is important to keep in mind that there are limits to what the law can do for you.
One way to succeed is to prove that your ex is involved in a “supportive relationship,” as defined by Florida Statutes Section 61.14. That’s what happened in a recent Volusia County case. The ex-husband went to court alleging that his ex-wife, to whom he paid alimony, had entered into a supportive relationship under the statute and that he should be entitled not only to a termination of his obligation to make future alimony payments, but also to have his obligation retroactively terminated going all the way to the date that the ex-wife moved in with her partner. The ex-husband succeeded in proving the existence of a supportive relationship involving the ex-wife, and the trial court retroactively terminated her alimony as the husband had requested.
There are many reasons a divorcing spouse might sign off on a marital settlement agreement when one or more terms are less favorable than what that spouse would receive if the agreement followed the Florida Statutes. Whatever the reasons, a person in such a situation should be extremely careful when signing such an agreement because, as long as the language in the document is clear, courts will follow the agreement’s terms, as one recent 2d District Court of Appeal case demonstrates.
The case arose from the divorce of a Florida couple. After mediation, the couple came to terms on a marital settlement agreement. In that document, the husband agreed to pay the wife $4,500 per month in alimony. The alimony paragraph stated that the amount was non-modifiable and payable for the life of the wife.
A husband’s recent failed attempt to modify his alimony obligation serves as a cautionary tale for all divorcing spouses as they consider signing agreements regarding alimony. The husband sought modification because the wife had been cohabitating with a man for two years. The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that this was not grounds for modification, however, since the couple’s alimony agreement listed remarriage, but not cohabitation, as a valid basis for modifying the husband’s obligation.
When Husband and Wife divorced in 2007 after 17 years of marriage, they reached a marital settlement agreement that included the terms of the husband’s alimony obligation to the wife. The couple agreed that the husband would pay the wife $2,000 per month until he turned 62. The only grounds for modifying that obligation were loss of income due to the failure of the husband’s business, loss of income due to a decline in the husband’s health, the wife’s remarriage, or the death of either spouse.
In 2012, the husband went to court asking the judge to modify or terminate his alimony obligation. The wife, the husband alleged, had been living with a man in a “supportive” relationship that involved sharing wealth and assets for at least two years. The wife asked the judge to throw out the case, arguing that her non-marital relationship did not trigger any of the modification grounds listed in the settlement agreement.
A Third District Court of Appeal case from earlier this month marked a reversal of course for that court with regard to the rules regarding cohabitating couples and alimony modification. In the court’s latest ruling, it decided that, even though an ex-wife received virtually no financial support from her cohabitating boyfriend, a trial court was nevertheless justified in using that relationship as the basis for lowering the ex-husband’s monthly alimony obligation.
The case centered upon the aftermath of a divorce following which the ex-husband had paid his ex-wife alimony since the couple’s divorce in 2005. In 2009, the ex-wife boyfriend moved in with her. The ex-husband sought to reduce his alimony based upon the cohabitation relationship, and the trial court dropped his alimony obligation from $4,200 per month to $3,500.
The ex-wife appealed. The Third DCA originally agreed with the wife, but reconsidered its opinion and upheld the trial court ruling. The court ultimately decided that the statutes were clear in allowing the trial court to make the reduction based upon the change in circumstances brought about by the cohabitation.
Under Florida law, an ex-spouse can request a legal modification of alimony. In a recent case, a couple had divorced after 28 years of marriage. On an appeal of the divorce judgment, the court reduced the husband’s alimony payments. In 2010, about a decade after the divorce, the former husband filed a petition requesting a reduction or termination of the payments, which were then $6,000 per month.
He argued that an order requiring him to pay permanent periodic alimony payments should be modified because (1) his financial circumstances had changed significantly and (2) his former wife was in a relationship with someone supportive. The former wife denied the material facts underlying the petition.
A general magistrate made a recommended order, finding a substantial change of circumstances since the husband’s income had been reduced. In his findings, he noted that he did not think this change was contemplated at the time of divorce and that the former wife was in a committed relationship. He recommended the alimony payments be reduced significantly, down to $1,294.06 per month.
A legislator in Florida, Representative Ritch Workman, is attempting to repeal a state law which makes it illegal to cohabit with a party who is not a spouse. Specifically, “if any man or woman, not being married to each other, lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabit together..they shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree”. This crime is currently punishable by 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Approximately 544,907 Floridians live in a relationship in violation of Florida law. This law is now viewed as both unenforceable and unrealistic. One advocate believes that there is a role for government to promote marriage instead of cohabitation. The rationale is that greater marriage rates have a lower likelihood of crime, less domestic violence and better educational results for children.
Individuals believe that there are governmental limitations in promoting marriage. Arresting individuals who live together is not realistic or fair. Many Floridians do not want to marry due to a prior Broward divorce which they experienced or lived through with their own parents.
In Sootin v. Sootin, the former husband and former wife divorced in Miami-Dade in 1998. The former husband was obliged to pay the former wife permanent alimony. During 2008, the former husband sought to modify or terminate his alimony obligation. The former wife successfully moved to dismiss the petition since she now resided in Tennessee.
Next, the former husband moved to Tennessee and filed a petition to register and modify the divorce decree previously entered in Miami-Dade. After the former wife moved to dismiss the petition for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction in Tennessee, the Miami-Dade court, after consultation with the Tennessee Court, transfered the case to Tennessee. The former wife appealed this order.
In reversing the trial court’s transfer order, the Third District Court of Appeal held that the Miami divorce court erred in transferring the case to Tennessee. The court reasoned that Florida, under the Unified Interstate Family Support Act (hereinafter “UIFSA”), had continuing exclusive jurisdiction over the alimony order throughout the existence of the obligation.