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.
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.
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.
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.
During a Broward divorce, your Fort Lauderdale divorce lawyer may request that you be awarded alimony. A Florida marital and family court can award you bridge-the-gap, temporary, lump sum, rehabilitative or permanent periodic alimony. However, after the conclusion of your Broward divorce case, one spouse may have their Broward child support, child custody and divorce attorney ask the judge to reduce or terminate the alimony because of a statutorily created supportive relationship.
In determining whether an existing award of alimony should be reduced or terminated because of an alleged supportive relationship between an obligee and a person who is not related by consanguinity or affinity and with whom the obligee resides, the court shall elicit the nature and extent of the relationship in question. The court shall give consideration, without limitation, to circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following, in determining the relationship of an obligee to another person: the extent to which the obligee and the other person have held themselves out as a married couple by engaging in conduct such as using the same last name, using a common mailing address, referring to each other in terms such as “my husband” or “my wife,” or otherwise conducting themselves in a manner that evidences a permanent supportive relationship; the period of time that the obligee has resided with the other person in a permanent place of abode; the extent to which the obligee and the other person have pooled their assets or income or otherwise exhibited financial interdependence; the extent to which the obligee or the other person has supported the other, in whole or in part; the extent to which the obligee or the other person has performed valuable services for the other; the extent to which the obligee or the other person has performed valuable services for the other’s company or employer; whether the obligee and the other person have worked together to create or enhance anything of value; whether the obligee and the other person have jointly contributed to the purchase of any real or personal property; evidence in support of a claim that the obligee and the other person have an express agreement regarding property sharing or support; evidence in support of a claim that the obligee and the other person have an implied agreement regarding property sharing or support and whether the obligee and the other person have provided support to the children of one another, regardless of any legal duty to do so.
In Baumann v Baumann, the Second District Court of Appeal reversed the decision of a Florida divorce court that reduced the former husband’s alimony obligation to the Former Wife. The former husband was required to pay the former wife $1800 per month in permanent periodic alimony. In 2007, the former husband petitioned the Florida marital and family law court to reduce or terminate his alimony obligation since the Former Wife was involved in a supportive relationship.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida divorce Judge Arthur Birken ruled that Palm Beach Circuit Judge David French should not have to pay his former wife $3,400.00 a month in permanent alimony because she has been living with another man for nearly 20 years. Judge Birken also ordered the former wife to repay $151,000.00 that she received in alimony since August 2006.
Judge David French was divorced from his former wife in 1988. In 2006, Judge French requested that his alimony obligation be abated after the Florida Legislature enacted Florida Statute 61.14(b) which permits modification or termination of alimony to recipients living in a supportive relationship. The trial court denied this request in August 2006.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s August 2006 ruling and found that the former wife was in a supportive relationship and should not continue to receive alimony from Judge French