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Articles Posted in Modification (Divorce/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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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.

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.

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

Sometimes, divorces cases can be amicable or straightforward…or even both. Other times, though, they are the furthest thing from amicable or straightforward. Parties may seek to use whatever they have at their disposal that they think will give them leverage in getting the outcome they want. Sometimes, they engage in improper tactics. When that happens, there may be recourse for the spouse who was harmed by the other spouse’s improper conduct. As with almost any legal issue, however, the law only gives you a limited time to act. That’s why, if you think you’ve been a victim of coercion or duress in your divorce settlement, or that your spouse has otherwise acted improperly, you should talk to an experienced Florida divorce attorney right away.

One recent case from North Florida involved an apparently salacious example of potential coercion or duress. The underlying action was a complicated divorce litigation case involving a Jacksonville-area attorney and his wife. At some point while the divorce case was going forward, the husband encountered a serious problem. He had a mistress, and his wife had pictures of her husband and the other woman. The appeals court’s opinion stated that the wife “allegedly obtained” pictures of the husband and mistress that were “of a private nature.” The appeals court’s opinion did not elaborate further on the exact “private nature” of the images or precisely how the wife came to be in possession of those photos.

Regardless, the wife allegedly used the photos as leverage, threatening the husband with their public release if he did not agree to settle the couple’s divorce case on terms she preferred. In his court papers, the husband asserted that the divorce mediator told the husband that, if he did not give the wife “what she wanted,” he’d end up owing alimony, child support, and the wife’s attorneys’ fees, in addition to receiving no timesharing with the couple’s children. The husband capitulated to the wife’s demands.

In law, as with a lot of things in life, it pays to be well-versed in the details, be they small or great. For example, if you are preparing to retire, and your transition into retirement means a significant reduction of your income, do you know which rights this change provides when it comes to your alimony obligation? This and other questions are areas in which it pays to have representation from an experienced Florida alimony attorney.

One man facing that type of alimony scenario was Anthony, a firefighter. Anthony had filed for divorce in 2013 after 22 years of marriage. Anthony and his wife, Amy, worked out a marital settlement agreement. The agreement called for the husband to pay the wife $1,250 per month in durational alimony. The agreement said that it became enforceable when both spouses signed it, which happened in mid-September 2014. The trial judge, however, did not sign the final judgment in the divorce case until December 30.

These dates all mattered because of the change that occurred in the husband’s employment. In early December 2014, his pension board approved his retirement, effective Jan. 23, 2015. Three months into his retirement, the husband went back to court to seek a reduction in his alimony obligation. In support of his request, he pointed to his significantly reduced income in retirement.

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