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.
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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Two bills passed by the Florida House died in the Senate as the legislative session ended on March 9th. House Bill 549 would have put an end to permanent alimony in the State of Florida. House Bill 1209 was designed to ban Florida courts from considering foreign or religious law in legal decisions. As the session ended, the Florida Senate chose not to call either bill to the floor for a vote. Proponents of both measures have vowed to reintroduce the proposed laws in the future.
A spokesperson for the Florida Alimony Reform group, Alan Frisher, expressed disappointment in the Senate’s failure to pass alimony reform during the recent legislative session. According to Frisher, current alimony laws promote extended periods of animosity between ex-spouses. He believes the state should instead focus on the length of a couple’s marriage as well as transitional alimony which would purportedly encourage both spouses to become self-sufficient. Frisher stated the organization will continue to fight to change the state’s allegedly antiquated alimony laws. The Family Law Section of the Florida Bar Association strongly opposed House Bill 549 and the organization’s head, David Manz, referred to the Florida Alimony Reform group as a vocal minority.
The Florida Senate also declined to vote on House Bill 1209, “Application of Foreign Law in Certain Cases.” Although the measure did not single out Islamic law, it was often referred to by critics as the the “anti-Sharia” bill. If re-elected, Senate sponsor Alan Hays of Umatilla plans on reintroducing the measure in the next legislative session. Opponents of the failed measure have stated such a law is unnecessary and expressed concern over the intent of the bill as well as its effect on family law matters such as divorce and child custody. According to Hays, the measure was simply designed to ensure United States law is the only law considered by Florida courts.
In Florida, a court may award alimony where there is a need on the part of the alimony receiver and an ability to pay on the part of the alimony payor. A needs assessment will examine the distribution of marital assets and the couple’s standard of living prior to the divorce. If the potential alimony receiver has the ability to maintain the same standard of living after all assets are distributed, a Florida court generally will not award alimony.
Each year, many Americans find themselves in the midst of divorce proceedings. Although the range of emotions associated with the end of a marriage can feel overwhelming, the financial damage can also be devastating. If you are faced with the dissolution of your marriage, contact a qualified divorce attorney to help you protect your interests. An experienced divorce lawyer will discuss your options with you and help you file your case.
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In an 83-30 vote, the Florida House has passed Representative Ritch Workman’s bill designed to end permanent alimony in the state. House Bill 549 would not only prohibit new permanent alimony obligations in favor of long-term support orders, but it could also be applied retroactively to permanent alimony awards made in the past. This means Florida citizens currently paying permanent alimony would have the opportunity to reduce or eliminate spousal support obligations. The bill will now move on to the Florida Senate.
If the bill becomes law, it would reduce the length of time a court may award alimony payments to half of the length of the marriage absent additional written justification by a court outlining the need for a longer duration. It would also make it easier for those paying alimony to stop payments upon retirement and prohibit a court from ordering the paying spouse to live on a lower net income than the payee. Additionally, the law would prohibit a court from considering the income and assets of an alimony payer’s new spouse upon remarriage.
According to Florida Alimony Reform (FAR), a group that assisted in writing the bill, the law is necessary because current Florida alimony laws are unfair to men. 95 percent of divorced individuals paying alimony in the state are men and the financial burden of permanent alimony awards often prevent them from retiring. House Bill 549 was a compromise bill. FAR originally advocated for more sweeping alimony reforms.
The Florida Bar Association has publicly criticized the alimony bill and accused FAR of spreading misinformation. According to a press release written by David Manz of the Florida Bar Association’s Family Law Section, the proposed law is “far-reaching in magnitude and would have significant adverse and unintended consequences.” Although the Florida Bar reportedly agrees alimony reform is necessary, the organization claims FAR has exaggerated the purported lack of fairness in the current system. Manz also stated the Bar Association would support fair reform to Florida’s alimony laws.
In Florida, an alimony award is intended to maintain each spouse’s standard of living after a divorce. Because an award of alimony is contingent upon the financial needs of one spouse and the other’s ability to pay, alimony is not awarded in all circumstances. The length of the marriage also factors into any alimony awarded by a Florida court.
Although a permanent alimony award may be made at the discretion of a judge after a moderate or short-term marriage is dissolved, it is normally awarded to a spouse who is no longer capable of meeting basic financial needs after a long term marriage of more than 17 years. Florida courts are required to determine no other alimony award is “fair and reasonable under the circumstances,” before permanent alimony is awarded. For marriages which lasted between 7-17 years, there must be clear and convincing evidence permanent alimony is the appropriate award.
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A bill filed before the Florida Legislature on November 2nd would prohibit judges presiding over a divorce from considering adultery when awarding alimony, place limits on the total amount and length of time alimony may be awarded, and allow divorce agreements in which alimony was awarded to be reopened and renegotiated. House Bill 549 would also terminate all alimony payments once the spouse ordered to pay reaches the age of retirement.
House Bill 549 was filed by Brevard County legislator Ritch Workman. Representative Workman reportedly filed the bill only eight days after his own divorce was finalized in Florida. Although alimony was reportedly not awarded in Workman’s divorce, the Melbourne legislator has stated he believes current Florida alimony laws are inequitable.
Alimony is a tool used by Florida courts to maintain each party’s standard of living after a divorce. Alimony is not awarded in all circumstances, however, as an award of alimony is contingent upon the financial needs of one spouse and the others ability to pay. Additionally, the length of the marriage also plays a factor in an alimony award.
House Bill 549 is part of a growing trend to reform alimony laws both in Florida and across the nation. Workman’s bill was modeled after similar legislation passed recently in Massachusetts. If the bill passes in Florida, its effects would be far-reaching. Even routine divorce settlements could be reopened and reexamined. Since filing House Bill 549, Representative Workman has stated specific portions, such as a cap on awards, should be removed.
The bill closely follows on the heels of recent amendments to the permanent alimony provisions of Florida Statute 61.08 which took effect on July 1, 2011. Permanent alimony is normally awarded to a spouse who is no longer capable of meeting basic financial needs after a long term marriage of more than 17 years. Permanent alimony may also be awarded at the discretion of a judge after a moderate or short-term marriage is dissolved. Since July 1st, Florida courts must now determine no other alimony award is “fair and reasonable under the circumstances,” when permanent alimony is awarded. For moderate-term marriages of 7-17 years, clear and convincing evidence permanent alimony is the appropriate award is now required.
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