Articles Posted in Permanent Periodic Alimony

If you and your spouse are married for only a relatively short amount of time, you probably don’t expect to owe your spouse permanent alimony. However, permanent alimony is available to some spouses in Florida, even in cases where theirs was a short-term marriage. If your short-term spouse is seeking permanent alimony from you, make sure you have the skilled legal advocacy you need from an experienced South Florida family law attorney to defeat this claim.

When your short-term spouse seeks permanent alimony from you, the law starts out on your side. If your marriage lasts seven years or less, Florida law considers that to be a “short-term” marriage and creates a presumption that permanent alimony is not proper. A “presumption” means that, at the outset of the case, before the court hears any evidence or arguments, it presumes that your spouse should not receive permanent alimony.

A spouse can overcome that presumption and get permanent alimony in a short-term marriage situation, but to do so requires a special evidentiary showing, so you need to be prepared to present the arguments and proof necessary to demonstrate that the presumption has not been overcome, as one Jacksonville-area husband did in his recent alimony case.

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Family law is full of various rules, but few of them are completely black-and-white. The law recognizes that each family in a family law case is unique, and a just outcome should reflect that. That’s why having a skilled South Florida family law attorney is so important. Your experienced attorney will have that knowledge of all of family law’s nuances and gray areas that non-lawyers don’t, and know how to use them to your best advantage.

Very recently, this blog covered the issue of alimony and its relationship to the length of the marriage. That time, the wife was seeking permanent alimony after having been married for less than 13 years, or a marriage of “moderate duration.” (Florida law says marriages of seven years or less are “short term,” marriages lasting more than seven years but less than 17 years are “moderate” in duration and marriages of 17 years or more are “long term.”)

In law, including alimony law, there are “presumptions.” These are default positions that will be the final outcomes in most cases, but not in all of them. You can overcome a presumption if you have enough of the right evidence to do what’s called “rebut” the presumption.

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When you go through the divorce process and your spouse seeks alimony, you have several challenges. One of those is to avoid outcomes where your ex gets more alimony than they should, or gets it for a longer duration than Florida law says is appropriate. To help in making sure that your outcome is a fair one, get skilled legal representation from an experienced South Florida alimony attorney.

When it comes to the duration of alimony, the law has some pretty clear limitations on awarding permanent periodic alimony, which was on display in the case of B.P. and his wife, S.P. The couple married in 2003, separated in early 2014 and the husband filed for divorce in 2016. At trial, the judge concluded that the marriage was of moderate duration and that the wife was entitled to $6,912 per month in permanent periodic alimony, as that amount and duration was necessary “to maintain the standard of living to which” the wife was accustomed.

The husband successfully appealed the alimony ruling. As both the trial court and appeals court noted, B.P. and S.P.’s marriage was a “moderate-term” one under Florida law. (Florida law has created three different levels of marital duration that judges use in making alimony decisions. Those groupings are: “short-term,” which is seven years or less, “moderate-term,” which is more than seven years but less than 17 years, and “long-term,” which is 17 years or more. That duration period is measured as the period from the date of the marriage until the date of an approved filing for divorce.)

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In Florida, if your marriage lasted 17 years or more, and you seek alimony, the law is fairly clear that a legal presumption exists that you should receive permanent alimony. There are various forms of proof that can overcome this presumption, but your young age cannot, by itself, make you ineligible for permanent alimony. In a recent South Florida case, the Fourth District Court of Appeal threw out an award of bridge-the-gap alimony because the trial court appeared to believe that the wife’s age of 42 alone made permanent alimony improper.

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The law regarding alimony contains several nuances. One of these is a statutory rule that says that the amount of evidence a spouse must offer in order to obtain permanent alimony differs based upon how long the couple was married. This rule recently led to the reversal of a Tampa court’s decision to deny a wife permanent alimony, since the 2d District Court of Appeal concluded that the lower court denied the wife’s permanent alimony request based upon the wrong standard of proof.

In Irene and Randy Banks’ case, theirs was a long-term marriage, having wedded before NASA launched the first space shuttle or the University of Miami won its first national football championship. The couple separated in 2011, with the wife filing for divorce shortly before the year’s end. At the time of their divorce, the husband made $90,000 a year and received a military pension that paid him almost $2,300 per month. The wife was unemployed but, in the trial court’s opinion, had a ability to earn $25,000 per year.
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A recent 4th District Court of Appeal ruling highlighted the complicated issues involved in calculating alimony in a case where the wife, who was previously a successful professional, retired early and did not intend to return to work after the divorce. The appeals court rejected a trial court ruling imputing no income to the wife, determining that, because the wife was qualified for certain jobs and that her continued unemployment was her own choice, the lower court should have imputed some income to the wife in determining the amount of alimony the wife should receive.

When this Florida couple married, he was an attorney for a utility company and she ran a public relations and marketing firm. The husband’s employer laid him off in 2000, but provided him with such a generous severance package that both he and his wife decided to retire early. The husband told the wife that, as a result of the severance payment, neither of them would ever have to work again. After a year of retirement, though, the husband started a consulting business from which he earned a sizable income. The wife remained retired.

When the couple divorced after 17 years of marriage, one of the central items in dispute was alimony and the wife’s earning capacity. An expert witness testified that, with a few short classes in computer software and social media, the wife could obtain a job making $40,000-$50,000 per year. The trial court, though, decided the wife was not qualified for most of the jobs identified by the expert witness, imputed no income to her, and ordered the husband to pay her $11,648 per month in permanent periodic alimony. The court also did not require the wife to return to work.
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Deciding the appropriate amount of retroactive support a spouse should receive can be somewhat complex in cases where the couple continues to live together during at least part of the divorce process. In one such recent case involving a veterinarian and his wife, the 5th District Court of Appeal decided that the couple’s long-term marriage entitled the wife to permanent alimony and that the husband should not be allowed to claim the mortgage and household bills he paid during the separation as support to his wife.

This couple divorced after more than 17 years of marriage. The couple continued to live together for part of the period when the divorce was pending, and the husband gave the wife $6,000 per month for support and payment of certain household bills, including the mortgage. The trial court ordered the husband, a veterinarian, to pay durational (temporary) alimony of $3,500 per month for eight years. The court also decided that the husband owed the wife no retroactive alimony.

The wife contested these determinations on appeal. The 5th DCA sided with the wife, ruling that the trial court should have awarded permanent, not temporary, alimony. Florida law requires a trial court to consider primarily what the needs of the spouse seeking alimony are, and the other spouse’s ability to pay. Additionally, the law’s default position is that permanent alimony is the appropriate remedy in cases involving long-term marriages, which the statute defines as ones lasting 17 years or more.
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Still motivated after their near-miss in the last session of the Florida Legislature, advocates for an overhaul to the state’s alimony laws are looking to a newly released documentary film to provide additional fuel to their cause. The film, entitled “Divorce Corp.”, allegedly demonstrates many of the excesses and flaws of Florida’s current system of family law and procedure. Proponents of changes to the laws governing alimony hope that the film will inspire the legislature to make another effort at reform, and that the governor will approve this time.

The Miami Herald reported on “Divorce Corp.”, which some theaters advertised as exposing “how children are torn from their homes, unlicensed custody evaluators extort money, and abusive judges play God with people’s lives while enriching their friends,” and its interrelationship with the movement within the state to amend Florida’s alimony laws. Alan Frisher, head of a pro-reform non-profit organization called Family Law Reform, supports the film. Frisher described “Divorce Corp.” as “another way to engage the public.” In addition to screenings of the documentary, Frisher also published a book entitled “Divorcing the System: Exposing the Injustice of Family Law,” and has held summits touting alimony reform.

In its 2013 session, the Florida legislature passed a controversial measure, Senate Bill 718, reforming alimony laws. The bill would have ended permanent alimony and established limits on the amount of alimony a spouse could receive. The changes would have also altered the definitions of short-, moderate- and long-term marriages. For example, the bill stretched the definition of “short-term” marriages from seven years or less to 11 years or less, and stated that the default outcome for short-term marriages is an award of no alimony.
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A movement to reform Florida’s alimony laws that began about ten years ago is reportedly beginning to gain momentum. Although the movement was initially primarily composed of divorced men, an increasing number of women are allegedly in favor of amending permanent alimony laws in the State of Florida. With divorce rates hovering near 50 percent, the increase in female support reportedly comes from second wives whose husbands are paying permanent alimony to their former spouse. Others are purportedly women who have refused to marry in order to keep their earnings from being used to recalculate a permanent alimony award.

According to Alan Frisher, Spokesperson and Co-Director for Florida Alimony Reform, although a number of changes were made to state alimony laws in recent years, they were not sufficient. Frisher, who has paid his former spouse permanent alimony for nearly ten years, stated most of the alimony laws currently in place in Florida were created in the 1950s. He believes they need to be reformed because societal shifts have fundamentally changed the economics of marriage. Frisher also said the goal of his organization is to educate legislators regarding the unfairness of current permanent alimony statutes.

Some feel that Florida’s current alimony laws discourage former spouses from becoming self-sufficient. It also reportedly creates lifetime financial ties between individuals who chose to end their marriage. When a Florida alimony payer remarries, a judge may increase his or her former spouse’s support award based on a perceived decrease in personal expenses. Florida Alimony Reform reportedly seeks an end to permanent alimony in favor of a fixed-term or long-term durational award system that would end once the payer reaches the age of retirement.

In most Florida divorce cases, some sort of alimony is awarded to the spouse who was the lower wage-earner. The idea behind a spousal support order is to provide a former spouse with additional income as he or she makes the transition to self-sufficiency. Most alimony awards are reportedly paid for a limited term based upon the length of a couple’s marriage. The concept of permanent alimony in the state was allegedly designed to protect a parent who stayed home with the children in lieu of working. Permanent and other alimony awards may be terminated if a payee remarries or cohabits in a marital-type relationship.

In Florida, a court may award spousal support where there is a need on the part of the alimony recipient and an ability to pay on the part of his or her former spouse. Normally, a needs assessment is conducted prior to any spousal support order. A needs assessment will examine the distribution of marital assets and the former couple’s standard of living before the marriage ended. In general, a Florida court will not award spousal support where the potential alimony recipient has the ability to maintain the same standard of living following the distribution of all marital assets. A competent family lawyer can explain the process in more detail.
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Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal has reversed a permanent periodic alimony and attorney fees award in a high profile divorce case. A Miami-Dade trial court awarded Nancy Loftus Quinones $14,135 in monthly alimony following her 2009 divorce from her husband of 18 years, ABC News correspondent John M. Quinones. At the time of the parties’ divorce, the former wife was reportedly largely unemployed for 18 years and the former husband earned more than $1 million per year. The couple also had two children who were attending private schools, one of whom was still a minor. Mr. Quinones reportedly voluntarily paid the private school tuition for both children.

At the time of the divorce, Mr. Quinones reportedly brought home more than $58,000 per month. He allegedly paid approximately $52,000 per year on college tuition and other payments for the couple’s adult son. Because the parties reportedly did not enter into a contractual agreement regarding the tuition payments, the trial court committed error when it considered the former husband’s voluntary payments for the couple’s adult child when determining the wife’s alimony award. This increased Mr. Quinones’ monthly expenses and reduced the amount of money he had available each month to pay alimony to his former wife.

Mrs. Quinones claimed she required $28,000 per month in order to maintain her current lifestyle. According to the Third District Court, the number was not unreasonable based on the parties’ lifestyle and her former husband’s income. Despite that no evidence was offered to refute the former wife’s financial claims, the trial court adjusted her alimony award downward. Consequently, the Third District Court of Appeal determined the trial court failed to properly take into account the standard of living the wife enjoyed prior to the couple’s divorce as required by Florida Statute.

The Third District Court of Appeal reversed and remanded the case for reconsideration of the permanent periodic alimony award. On remand, the trial court was ordered to disregard Mr. Quinones’ voluntary payment of tuition expenses for his adult child and to take into account the standard of living enjoyed by the parties prior to the dissolution of their marriage. Additionally, because there was nothing in the trial court record to demonstrate the former wife engaged in behavior to prolong litigation or inflate her attorney’s fees, the Court reversed the trial court’s costs award and remanded the issue for reconsideration. Finally, the Third District affirmed the trial court’s equitable distribution award.
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