Articles Posted in Modification (Divorce/Alimony)

In many marriages, one spouse will earn a far greater income than the other. If a couple with disparate incomes subsequently divorces, the lesser-earning party will often request spousal support. In determining whether to grant such support, the courts will assess not only the requesting party’s need but also the responding party’s ability to pay. Once a court issues an order directing a party to pay alimony, it generally is not subject to modification absent evidence of a material and enduring change in circumstances. The change must be involuntary as well, as discussed in a recent Florida case in which the court denied the husband’s request for modification of a permanent spousal support obligation. If you or your spouse intend to end your marriage and you want to learn more about the economic impact of the decision, it is in your best interest to speak with a Miami divorce attorney.

Factual and Procedural History of the Case

It is alleged that the husband and the wife were married for twenty-eight years before divorcing in 2014. During the divorce action, the parties agreed that the husband would pay the wife permanent spousal support in the amount of $1,000 each month. When they made the agreement, the husband worked as a mechanical millwright.

Reportedly, six years after the divorce, the husband left his job. He then filed a petition to modify or terminate his spousal support obligation on the grounds that he developed a disability and could not perform his job requirements, causing a significant decrease in pay. The court held a hearing after which it determined that the husband failed to prove he had a disability and that his decision not to work was voluntary and would not support a request for a modification. The husband appealed. Continue reading ›

While courts typically conducted family law hearings in person prior to 2020, since the COVID-19 pandemic, many proceedings have been held via video-teleconferencing. Regardless of whether hearings are conducted in person or over the internet, parties impacted by such hearings have certain rights, and if the court violates their rights, any rulings issued during the proceeding may be reversed. This was demonstrated recently in a Florida opinion issued in a divorce case in which the court ruled that the trial court infringed on the wife’s due process rights by ruling on matters in her absence. If you or your spouse wish to end your marriage, it is important to understand your rights and obligations, and you should talk to a Miami divorce attorney promptly.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the husband and wife married in 2002 and had two minor children. They subsequently divorced, and in 2016, the trial court entered a final judgment dissolving their marriage. The trial court also appointed a parenting coordinator and guardian ad litem to help resolve other issues. The parties later filed multiple post-dissolution motions, seeking enforcement of the final judgment, contempt, and psychological evaluations.

Allegedly, the court scheduled a hearing for June 2021 to address certain financial issues. The court conducted the hearing over Zoom and, prior to commencing, confirmed it would only cover the issues previously indicated. The trial court stated it was going to order the wife to pay her share of the children’s tuition, after which she logged off. She logged back on ten minutes later, only to log off again when the court restated its intent. The court later ordered the wife to pay the husband the cost of the parenting coordinator’s fees in the wife’s absence. The wife appealed. Continue reading ›

Divorce can leave one party in a precarious financial situation. In many divorces, then, a person will seek alimony from their spouse. In evaluating whether alimony is warranted, the courts will look at not only if the party seeking alimony can demonstrate their need but also if the other party has the ability to pay. If either party’s economic circumstances change after a court enters an order granting alimony, the court may grant a modification. Recently, a Florida court discussed the factors considered in determining whether to terminate alimony in a case in which it upheld the trial court’s ruling. If you are considering ending your marriage and want to learn more about alimony, it is smart to meet with an experienced Miami divorce attorney.

Background of the Case

It is reported that the husband and wife divorced in 2008. Their marital settlement agreement was incorporated into the final judgment of divorce. Among other things, the agreement dictated that the husband was to pay the wife $3,000 in alimony per month until the wife remarried, the husband reached the age of 65, or either party died. It stated that the obligation could be modified, but an increase in the wife’s income did not constitute grounds for a modification.

Allegedly, the husband filed a petition for modification in 2016 after he lost his job. The wife filed a motion for enforcement and contempt, as the husband had ceased paying alimony when he was terminated. There was no activity in the case until 2019, when the wife filed a second motion. The husband then filed a second petition for modification or termination. The case proceeded to trial, after which the court found that the husband had demonstrated a substantial and material change in circumstances and suspended his obligation until his ability to pay was restored. The wife then appealed. Continue reading ›

There are different types of alimony the Florida courts can award in divorce proceedings, including permanent alimony. Permanent alimony is not as permanent as the name suggests but can be adjusted if a court finds that a modification is warranted. The court will only grant a modification if there is evidence that it is necessary due to a change in circumstances that is both material and substantial, however, as demonstrated in a recent Florida case. If you have questions regarding alimony or the financial ramifications of divorce, it is smart to confer with a knowledgeable Miami divorce attorney as soon as possible.

The Facts of the Case

It is reported that the wife filed a petition to modify the periodic payment of permanent alimony awarded to the husband via a marital settlement agreement that was adopted by the trial court as part of the parties’ divorce judgment. Specifically, she requested that the court impute income to the husband based on the fact that he was eligible to receive Social Security benefits, even though he had not applied for such benefits. The court denied her petition, finding that she failed to adequately prove that there had been a material and substantial change in either her or the husband’s circumstances that warranted a modification. The wife then appealed.

Grounds for Modifying Alimony Awards

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court ruling. In doing so, it stated that pursuant to established case law, a trial court cannot impute the value of Social Security benefits that a person is eligible to receive but has not yet applied for as income to a person if they offer evidence showing that their decision to defer the benefits is merely a prudent investment strategy, as their benefits will increase if they do not take them until a later date. Continue reading ›

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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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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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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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.

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.

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.